We were leaving a friend's birthday party when an elderly man approached my 2.5-year-old daughter. "Did you have a good time, sweetie?" he asked, leaning down. In typical fashion, she retreated behind my legs, thumb firmly in mouth. "Yes, sir," I responded for her. "Someday you're going to have to learn how to speak for yourself!" he told her. I was indignant. My daughter's shyness is a trait, not a personal failing. Right? In most cases, yes, but it turns out there are some times you should pay attention to your kid's shyness.
My daughter's timidity has never really concerned me because I was a painfully shy child myself. I was so reserved that my sister would have to order my food for me at restaurants when we went to dinner with our biological dad, who we rarely saw. As I made good friends in high school, though, I started to grow out of my intense shyness. Now I'm a full-fledged extrovert. Even if my daughter's bashfulness isn't a phase, I feel fairly comfortable with it. Shyness has its benefits, according to Ask Dr. Sears, from attentive listening to deep thinking.
So, no, I'm not too worried about the fact that my toddler is slow to warm up, but her shyness is something I'm going to keep an eye on. Sometimes, it's a red flag that something else is going on. So with that in mind, here are the signs to look for:
When They Withdraw
When a child regularly isolates themselves, you may be looking at something beyond typical shyness. Loss of interest in interacting with others is a sign of social withdrawal. According to Riley Children's Health, it may be indicative of depression and should not be ignored. If you can't ferret out the problem through conversation with your kid, seek professional help.
When They're Angry
According to Dr. Sears, shyness often comes from a place of inner peace. That's nothing to worry about. However, when your child is operating from a place of fear, that's a problem. Aggressively shy children, according to Psychology Today, are more likely to be rejected and bullied by their peers.
When They Avoid Eye Contact
Poor eye contact can be a red flag for numerous disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, Tourette's syndrome, and attention deficit disorder. It's just one of a myriad of possible signs, so don't panic, but do check with your child's health care provider to make sure their social development is on track.
When They Don't Progress Through A Fear
Kids can express shyness for a variety of reasons, many of which are fear-based. They might be afraid of being separated from parents, being put on the spot, or meeting new people. When a gradual approach involving small goals toward which the child can work, combined with coping mechanisms, doesn't result in any change, a cognitive behavioral therapist may be able to help.
When It Impacts Their Social Skills Development
Shyness can be a wonderful trait. According to WebMD, shy children boast better listening skills and are less likely to misbehave at school. Unfortunately, by its very nature, shyness also limits the amount of social skills practice a child gets. It's OK if your kid doesn't have tons of friends, but if they don't have at least a few good ones, you need to step in.
When They Have Frequent Emotional Outbursts
As a parent, you have to ask yourself the question, "Are the tears appropriate to the situation?" If the answer is frequently no, you may be dealing with something beyond temperament. Your child might be further along the shyness spectrum. Moderate to severe social anxiety disorder merit an intervention.
When They Only Talk At Home
Your kid is a chatterbox at home, but they seem unable to speak in any kind of public setting, including school. Sound familiar? Your child might have selective mutism (SM). It often goes unnoticed because such children are polite and well-mannered in school, but they're also not asking to go to the bathroom or for help when they need it. SM requires treatment due to its significant impact on both academic and social development.
When It Gets In The Way Of Everyday Life
Extreme shyness should not be dismissed. Social phobia is a serious disorder. Adults with social phobia are at greater risk of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Fortunately, the condition is highly treatable. All the more reason to watch for early signs that your child's shyness is more than just a passing phase.
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