Shyness is a discomfort often accompanied by avoidance that interferes with personal relationships. It is characterized by excessive self-focus on one’s thoughts, feelings and physical reactions. Severely shy children may avoid situations where they feel others will view them critically. They fear that others will make fun of any perceived flaw or mistake and subsequently find themselves withdrawing from situations until there is a certain level of comfort. Shyness may be accompanied by blushing, sweating, heart pounding or upset stomach. If excessive shyness persists, the person may continue to withdraw until they have few or no friends and a child may begin to avoid activities he or she finds pleasurable. Left untreated, shyness can lead to passivity, pessimism, and low self-esteem.
By adulthood, estimates range from 30 to 50% of the population who report chronic shyness in some aspect of their life that interferes with functioning. Shyness may result from many causes. These include a biological predisposition, stressful life events, shaming experiences, or highly critical environments.
Parents can help by showing empathy for the child’s emotions but also by communicating appropriate and clear expectations. Professional help is sometimes required and at Silber Psychological Services there are trained professionals to help children learn how to combat negative thoughts, role play challenging situations, and eventually tackle the situations where the child is experiencing difficulties. Group therapy can be a useful adjunct where the child gets to practice new skills in the context of a supportive environment led by a professional. As a result of treatment, especially social skills groups, the child has the opportunity to practice and develop adaptive interactions. Therapy is aimed at helping a child learn self-acceptance, assertive skills, and more positive appraisal of the actual situation.