Sorting Out Shyness
Despite some grumbling, returning to school is a pretty happy event for most children, who are glad to reunite with old friends. For those who are socially timid, on the other hand, going back to school can be unnerving. Children whom we often call "shy" may feel ill at ease even with familiar classmates. And for them, starting fresh in a new school or in a new group with a number of unfamiliar faces can bring considerable strain. In an effort to spare their children the pain of loneliness, parents may try to persuade shy ones to be more bold and confident. But with a truly shy child, that approach is not likely to be effective. In fact, it may backfire.
A Shy Temperament
Having a shy temperament doesn't make lifelong shyness inevitable, but it helps to know that some children are born with a predisposition to be shy, just as others have a predisposition toward becoming hyperactive or relaxed. That doesn't make these traits inescapable. But if a child who is predisposed to be shy lives either in an environment where there is a lot of adult discord and fighting, or in a very overprotective environment, shyness is quite likely to develop.
Such a temperamental bias toward shyness is not rare. Ten to 15 out of every hundred kids are born with it, but only two of them will still be noticeably shy by adolescence. Most whose shyness is based on temperament do show shyness in their earliest months, up to at least the age of 2. Shyness based primarily on life experience, on the other hand, doesn't typically show up until age 5 or 6.
Shyness brought on by stress can be more readily relieved — by eliminating the source of stress. For example, if by working with your child's teachers, you discover that bullying by older children has created his current timidity, the matter can be more readily rectified. There are many environmental (as opposed to temperamental) bases for shy behavior. If a child is thrust into a new neighborhood and school from a different society or social class, maybe even a different language environment, of course he’s very likely to be socially cautious.
But being shy because one has just recently arrived from Guatemala calls for a different response from one directed toward a temperamentally shy child. Adults can use many strategies, at school and at home, to boost the social confidence of children who feel uncertain about how to fit in. Teachers (working with parents) can do a lot for these children by giving them realistic responsibilities that offer opportunities for success.