We’ve all heard of timid children. But what if YOU are the one crippled by shyness?
There’s a gaggle of mums in the corner of the playgroup, all talking and laughing. Their children play happily beside them.
They seem friendly and approachable but try as you might, you just can’t pluck up the courage to strike up a conversation.
As a result, you sit alone — and your child plays alone too.
Much has been written about the difficulties facing shy children.
But what about shy parents?
If you feel like you can’t make friends or talk to other mums, does that mean your child will have trouble making friends too?
Psychologist Dr Heather Sequeira says that although some children are naturally extrovert, for others having a shy parent might affect their confidence, as they may tend to take their cues from a parent and copy what they do in social situations.
If a child is shy to the point of being socially isolated it may mean that their self-esteem is affected and they feel rejected.
Dr Sequeira says: ‘This can lead to low self-esteem and other problems. But there are things you can do about it.
‘Talk it through with your child’s teacher, or nursery staff, to see if they can help your son or daughter to spend time with others in a positive way. Also, remember to be really encouraging of both yourself and your child’s attempts to reach out to others. It takes courage, but gets easier the more you do it.’
Dr Sequeira says that another key thing is to be positive — even if you feel the opposite.
She says: ‘Remind yourself that most people have at some time felt awkward, anxious or uncertain in some social situations. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it can lead to us having less social support and fewer friendships.
‘That’s why it’s good to encourage ourselves and our children to gently step out of our comfort zone and gradually start spending more time with others.’
Dr Sequeira says there are simple ways to overcome shyness.
She says: ‘Start by simply smiling at people you meet outside the school gate. Make eye contact and give them a warm smile. More often than not, people will reciprocate. Give yourself credit for trying it. Then a few days later, try a simple “Hi”, or an everyday comment such as “Nice day, isn’t it?”
‘The more we do this, the more we learn that nothing really bad is going to happen. You might even have a positive experience and, in time, find that facing your fears is empowering.’
Dr Sequeira says if you are painfully shy, trying this out at home can really help.
‘First, practise smiling and saying “Hi” in front of a mirror,’ she says. ‘Watch your body language — stand tall, chin up. Look people in the eyes and, above all, smile. Don’t dart your eyes around, look down or close off your body posture by folding your arms.
‘Reassure yourself that it’s normal to feel anxious to start with. Don’t run away, but take a couple of deep breaths. Doing that and giving others a smile is a great first step.’
Edited by Julie Cook
‘Will I stop my kids making friends?’
I had my first child, Ryan, now 13, when I was just 17. I always felt shy around other mums because I was quite young. I tried to go to mum-and-baby groups but could never bring myself to speak to anyone.
In time I had William, now seven, Jacob, six, and Luca, two. I was painfully shy and avoided talking to other mums.
But as the children grew, I worried. What if my shyness meant they’d be crippled by shyness too? What if it stopped them making friends?
With Luca, I forced myself to go to mum-and-baby groups. I was amazed at how easy it was to get talking to other mothers.
Now I feel far less shy and I no longer worry that my children will be lonely.
From Kellyann Mitchell 30, of Loughborough, Leics
TIPS FOR BEATING SHYNESS
Encourage any small steps your child makes to interact with others.
Smile at your children and tell them to smile at others.
Don’t be negative or critical if your child finds it hard to make friends — gently encourage them to have another go.
If your own shyness is acute, see your GP or self-refer to the NHS’s IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) programme for counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.
Keep trying. Even if doesn’t work the first time, try striking up simple conversations in the local café or the supermarket.