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Definition and meaning of shyness

Shyness is a very common emotion and it may commonly be referred to as diffidence, lack of confidence, nervousness, reticence or self-consciousness. This emotion, though being a universal one, is very seldom understood and many people do confuse shyness with wariness and social disengagement, though one must understand that shyness is very different from the latter two conditions.

Shyness as an emotion, which usually develops to help individuals, especially children cope with new surroundings or external stimuli.

It is actually a mix of various emotions like fear, apprehension and even tension at times. The characteristics that expose a child's shyness to an outsider maybe a reduced or soft tone of voice, hesitant or trembling speech and the child usually avoids direct eye to eye contact with an outsider. The shyness in children may vary during different developmental stages in their life. For example during infancy, fearful shyness maybe portrayed as a response to meeting new people where as the child grows older and becomes around 4 to 5 years of age, shyness in the form of self-consciousness is portrayed. In many cases, children tend to feel shy in social encounters where they are made the center of attention. However changes in the environment and pressures at play school or primary school are also factors attributed to a child's shyness.

Individual differences in shyness

As we all know, no two children can be alike and this dissimilarity in children results in individual differences in shyness. Or to be explained in simpler terms some children are shyer than others, while some are less shy than their friends or counterparts. Certain children react to their changing environment more than others do, where as certain children may selectively respond to only certain changes and not respond to any other changes.

Shyness to a certain extent is also inherent and inborn in us. Our culture and race determines our shyness to a certain extent. Heredity is also used to determine the extent of shyness in a child. At many times the emotion of shyness in an adopted child is closely linked to his biological mother's emotions and feelings. Another aspect that contributes greatly to a child's shyness is the family background, environment and social situations, which are faced by the child. If the child has been brought up in a closed, conservative and narrow-minded Indian family, then the likelihood that the child will be shy is very great. Some parents in an effort to make their children overcome their shyness force them to participate in activities with other children and force them into interactions with different people. However this behavior from the part of the parents only strengthens the shy tendencies of the child. But the basic deduction reached by all child psychologists and researchers is that genetics plays a very small role, but to a certain extent does determine shyness in a child. It is mainly the influences to which the child is exposed in the early stages of his life from 3 to 6 that determine shyness in them.

When does shyness pose as a serious problem ?

Shyness is a very normal emotion that helps children adjust themselves to different surroundings and situations. For that temporary period of time when the child is shy, he crawls into a little nutshell of his own and gains confidence about himself and tends to feel secure. Slowly as the child gets familiar with the surroundings, his shyness gradually decreases. This behavior is absolutely normal and should not worry most parents.

However if the child continues to exhibit extreme shyness for no particular reason and overtime, the shyness does not reduce, then that matter does become of important concern. Children that tend to remain shy in their early childhood may develop certain traits that stick with them throughout life. They are reserved and do not like to play with others. They may develop a poor image of themselves and acquire a low self-esteem. Other children may also judge a shy child as a less friendly person or as less caring. This is not necessarily true about the shy child but it is a way of life, as others perceive the shy child to be such an aloof person.

As a result of which, peers may stop playing with the shy child and neglect him and as the child grows up, his social developmental skills will get hampered. Children who are extremely shy during their childhood and continue to be shy in their adolescence, generally feel lonely and even depressed at times.

Helping your child to overcome his or her shyness


Build a close relationship with your child and make an effort to understand his / her fears, thoughts and emotions. Talk to your child every now and then. This will help them feel comfortable with you and will also allow them to express themselves.


Help your child to develop a good self-esteem about himself and you can also create a good image of your child in front of him by praising him with a few words for doing a good deed or for doing a task right. If your child feels confident about himself and the parents make him feel that he or she is a good person, the chances of the child feeling shy and lonely are very remote.


Encourage your child to play with other children and interact with other people. This will help in developing good social skills and the child will also learn new techniques of playing and having fun.


If your child feels threatened by a particular situation or scared of certain people, talk to your child and comfort him and let him know that you will give him all the support that is necessary to overcome these fears.


The most important thing that parents must remember is that there is nothing wrong with your child being shy. Children need to be shy once in a while and it is perfectly all right if they are shy. One must take care that this shyness should not exceed a certain limit and it should be content specific. If it is not, that is the time to worry and take action and help your child to overcome all his fears and emotions of being shy.



Past History
Arpit was a small, slender five year old boy from a middle class family. He was enrolled in the second grade at school, but failed to function adequately in the classroom.

The teacher described him as being withdrawn, shy, oversensitive and unable to make friends or participate in classroom activities. During recess, he preferred to remain in the classroom and appeared preoccupied with his thoughts and fantasies. He was seriously retarded in reading achievement and other basic school subjects. He was taken to the child guidance clinic.

Psychological assessment showed that he was superior in intelligence but suffered from an extreme feeling of inadequacy and a pervasive attitude of "I cannot do it".

Past history revealed that Arpit came from a poor broken home. His father had left home when he was two years old. He was brought up in an environment where there were no adult males. He lived with his mother and grandmother. He often felt anxious and insecure whenever there were guests at home. He tried to minimize his anxiety by turning inward, in effect detaching himself from a seemingly dangerous and hostile world. Arpit was losing his capacity to distinguish facts from fantasy. He started day dreaming and became more and more withdrawn and shy. He tended towards seclusiveness and was unable to form close interpersonal relationships.


Behaviour therapy procedures were employed in structured group settings, which made Arpit aware that it is not necessary to be perfect in all situations.


Autosuggestions were repeated to him like, "I can do it". He was asked to remove the 't' from the word can't.


Teachers of his class were made more aware of his needs and were asked to ensure his success experiences and to foster constructive interpersonal relationships. These included desensitization, assertion training and they helped Arpit with mastering essential competencies.


Counselling was done with the mother and grandmother on how to reduce the child's excessive dependence on them e.g. through letting him learn to do things for himself.

The co-operation of the mother, grandmother and teacher of his class was a key factor in the treatment programme.

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