sHow Teach Shy Child

 What is Shyness?

Shyness is a trait, in which a child (or an adult) feels apprehension, awkward and tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people.

How to Recognize a Shy Child: Symptoms

In the classroom, shy child tends to exhibit the following:

  • Dodging your gaze – though this alone does not make a child shy, it is a pointer. Generally and as in African culture, a child that directly gazes at an adult in the eyes is considered to be disrespectful. Consequently, tendencies are that majority of the children have learned avoid gaze. Look out for one or more of the other signs below.
  • Avoiding being noticed – a child that is shy would not want you to notice his/her presence so as not to be asked. As a result, s/he will always be quiet throughout.
  • Trembling or shaking (including shaky voice) – a shy child would usually not want to participate in class activities like answering questions. And should they eventually do, their voice and body would be shaky. They may speak softly and indistinctively.
  • Sweating or hot flashes – When speaking becomes inevitable, they will begin to sweat
  • Feeling dizzy or faint – a child that is shy will assume a sleepy look when encountered with social situation s/he doesn’t like.
  • Follow directions but don’t respond verbally to them – they are very attentive. Hence, though they may not speak; they follow orders diligently and carry out assigned task almost perfectly.
  • Watch but don’t join other children in fun activities – when in outdoor activity, say sport; shy children often watch the other children in admiration but will not join
  • Volunteers and Acts Last – shy children are usually the last to volunteer or to do something. They watch other children go first before they join if they choose to.

Causes of Shyness

Trying to teach a child that is shy is like providing solution to a mathematics question. During mathematics classes, I usually taught that the first step in solving any question is to understand the question.

Similarly, to effectively handle a shy pupil, you must understand the causes of shyness.

The different causes of shyness can be classified as either inborn or social.

  • Inborn cause of shyness (child’s temperament) – when the child may have the inborn shy character
  • Social causes of shyness – when the child became shy as a result of bad past social experience and social issues such as
    • dysfunctional family – inconsistent parenting, family conflict, harsh criticism, or a dominating sibling ,
    • inferiority complex – arising from the feeling that they are not as good, as intelligent, as attractive, etc. as other children


Is Shyness in Child a Good or Bad Thing?

Contrary to general conception that being shy is a negative trait, Dr Sears argued that shyness is a blessing.  Some experts however attribute possible negative social behaviours to shyness.

Good Side of Shyness

Some of the good things about a child that is shy include:

  • Solid self-concept – shy children, though do not speak, tends believe in themselves. They are always making comparison and judgment within. The resultant thought is usually, “even though I may not talk, I think I’m able to do that”.
  • Inner peace – quiet children have such peace within as the noisy ones don’t have.
  • Innovative – some shy children are deep-thinkers. They don’t act anyhow but cautiously. They  are creative as well and will usually out-do their extroverted counterpart in an individual assessment.
  • Self-protection – The cautious act of shy children is a way of protecting them against strangers.


Negative Side of Shyness

More often than not, children whose shyness is caused by bad social experiences such as family dysfunction and inferiority complex suffer from the following aftermath of shyness.

  • Total withdrawal – while some shy child children withdraw only at the initial stage of making contact with a stranger, others will withdraw perpetually. Even after being with the teacher for a long time, some will continue to be shy.
  • Quick to anger – because they are withdrawn from the teacher, any attempt the teacher makes to involve them in the class will be attended with anger (and eventual cry).
  • Lack of Association – as a result of their total withdrawal and aggressiveness, other pupils as see them as unfriendly or disinterested. They will therefore not associate with them.
  • General impediment to social and academic development – the resultant effect of lack of association is a poor academic and social development.


What to do as a Teacher: the Magic Guidelines

Whatever reason made a child to be shy, a teacher must ‘fix’ it. That’s the expectation of the parents. Funny enough, parents consider the teacher of their kids to be a mini-god. They believe the teacher is able to change the worst-behaved child into a person of charming character.

With this overwhelming expectation in mind, the following guidelines should work the magic. As with the rest of my posts; the guidelines below represent the views of several experts in the field of behavioral psychology, early child education, child development and veteran teachers.

  1. Know more about the child – this is the very first thing you should do. Knowing more about the child entails more than the general information you receive of every child. It involves knowing the source of the shyness, what the child likes and his/her usual habit in the class. These pieces of information can be collected by speaking with the parents, observing the child and asking him or her. It is important to note that between two and four years of age, children go through a second phase of stranger anxiety, as they become afraid of people they don’t know. This opinion is held by the Dr Sears (a group of four medical doctors).
  2. Establish a positive relationship with the parent – The development of social skills depends on trust and safety (Romano, Papa, & Saulle, 2013). This means that a shy child will open up only when they trust and feel safe with you. But how can you build trust with a kid who is afraid of you? One of such ways is building a positive relationship with the parent. Engage the parent in a short discussion daily as they come to drop or pick the child. The discussion should be done in the presence of the child. As the child sees how free the parent is with you, s/he will begin to trust and feel safe with you. You should be friendly to the children as well.
  3. Rapport with the child – with the information you gather from observation and discussion with the parent, engage the child in conversation. Ask him/her about his/her likes and the things s/he usually does or play with in the class. If the child likes chocolate, discuss chocolate – ask whether the mummy makes chocolate, who buys it for him/her e.t.c. If the child usually brings kwose (bean cake) to school, ask him/her whether the mummy bakes kwose, what is used to bake it or where they usually buy it from.
  4. Parallel-play with the child – this is a valuable tip to go by when the child do not like to talk. Instead of outright discussion of what s/he plays with in the class, get the same things and do the same thing s/he does just beside him/her. You then initiate simple conversation with the child.
  5. Pair the shy child with a friendly, more outgoing child for specific types of play or work – In a class; while some kids are shy and timid, others are very confident, bold and caring. I’ve seen one or two of such type of kids. During launch time, they don’t eat as much – they just love sharing! And when outside for break, you see them organizing other children for a play. They are always happy.

When a child that is shy is paired with an outgoing one, the later seems to know how to make the former join in the play.

  1. Give the child a specific job – here, you should be careful least you assign the shy child a task that attract attention. If you ask the child in class, take it as just a test. Don’t wait and expect the child to answer so as not to be disappointed. Be systematic about it. The task should be an ordinary one. It should be a job that could be done without been noticed. It could be holding or bringing something for you. Or let’s say in a game which requires the score to be recorded; you could give him/her the task of writing the scores. A bad idea would be asking the child to read for the class as all attention will be fixed on him/her. As the child continues with the ordinary assignments, s/he will gradually learn to overcome sitting by him/herself.
  2. Commend the child for EVERY effort – This works like magic! For every effort the child made either to overcome shyness or in doing the assigned task, commend. If the shyness is as a result of the feeling of being inferior too others, s/he will begin to develop self-confidence.
  3. Partner with the parents– like is has always been said, child’s development is a cooperation between the parents and teacher. Never has it been one alone. Talk to the parents as often as possible. Find out if the child is adjusting or has been attempting to adjust at home. Be open-minded. Seek the parent’s opinion and implement good suggestions.
  4. Advise the parent on how they could help. I gathered some pieces of advice that you should give under the Role of Parents
  5. Don’t do what you should not do – below, I have gathered some tips (mostly from suggestions based on a BAM Radio program, Teaching and Caring for Shy, Socially Sensitive Children by Dr. Jacquelyn Mize –  Professor, Human Development and Family Studies at Auburn University and Dean Marjorie Kostelnik – College of Education and Human Sciences, University of Nebraska.; then from Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed in her 2012 article, How to get shy or withdrawn children involved in the classroom experience; and finally, an article by Raising Children Network, Shyness and children).

The Role of Parents to Teach Shy Child

  1. Bring the child to school early – “It’s much easier for a shy child to meet other guests one at a time, rather than when everything’s in full swing,” Ken Rubin, Ph.D., professor of human development and director of the Center for Children, Relationships, and Culture at the University of Maryland, in College Park. By bringing the child early to school, you afford his/her the chance to watch other children come in one after another. By the time the class is full, s/he would have decided who to play with.
  2. Parents Should Encourage the child to ask questions – there’s no better assurance of security than that given by the parent. Consequently, the more often the parent encourages the child to ask the teacher; the safer the child will assume the teacher to be.
  3. Give the child the chance to speak – Some parents are over-comforting of their shy child. They wouldn’t want the child to face challenges. They will abruptly answer for him/her and say “s/he is shy”. While this may be a natural expression of love, advise the parents to let the child speak for him/herself. For example, when someone asks him/her for his/her name; the parent shouldn’t answer for the child even though s/he may be struggling to answer. He will eventually answer. When that happens for a couple of times, the child will learn how to answer seamlessly. This is a major step in overcoming the shy behaviour as the child will believe that the parent is confident about his/her ability to handle social situation of that sort.
  4. Commend the child for EVERY effort – Just as the teacher, the parent should also appreciate the child when an effort is made. For example, if a child replied to someone’s question; let him/her know that you are so pleased with that. That, with the parent’s encouragement; will make the child to make further effort.
  5. Don’t call them ‘shy’ – The over-comforting kind of parents usually tends to add the clause – “S/he is shy” after speaking/answering for their children. All the experts’ papers and articles I went through while putting this post together strongly urge that parents shouldn’t call or say a shy child is shy. This is majorly because, if a parent keep saying a child is shy; s/he will consider shyness as an ailment. Such child will therefore come to believe that an expert is required to cure the ailment thereby stalling personal effort to overcome the situation. Instead, experts suggested that parents should picture shyness in a positive light to the child. For example, instead of saying “s/he doesn’t want to speak because s/he is shy” whenever the child refused to answer a question; the parent could say “S/he is thinking about her answer right now”. This suggestion was particularly made by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed.


What a teacher should not do

As discussed in number 10 to teach a shy child, there are things the teacher shouldn’t do. These include:

  • Labeling the child as shy
  • Assigning the child a major task that attracts the attention of many people
  • Asking the child to ask to join other children in a play/game
  • Forcing the child to speak
  • Waiting on or expecting the child to answer question in the class.



As stated in LeadinGuides legal terms, this post is based on my personal research from books and web resources together with what I learned through experimentation and experience. Were external works is included, I provide link to the source. Should you notice any information which is not cited, please indicate it in the comment box below.

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