Written by: Stéphanie Deslauriers
All children and adults have a personality of their own, which we develop throughout childhood and our teenage years. Factors like time, life events, experiences and relationships will shape our personality, giving it its singularity.
The personality we develop is built on our temperament, a set of inborn traits. On one hand, you have children that are said to be “easy”; those born with an easy disposition tend to like new experiences, or at least to adapt to these quickly. When they communicate a distress signal (crying), they are quickly soothed when their parents find the source of their discomfort. Easy children are seen as cheerful and happy.
On the other hand, difficult children often dread new experiences and will react strongly to these. When difficult babies are in a situation of discomfort, they may remain cranky even after their parents have answered their needs. Your baby’s temperament is set from birth, and later on, their personality will emerge.
Children can be extroverts (they gain energy by being in contact with other people and enjoy such situations) or introverts (the same contact will have the opposite effect and drain energy). Some children also tend to be shier; they struggle when meeting new people, don’t speak up, and would rather go unnoticed when they are in groups, mostly for fear of being judged negatively.
Low self-esteem is commonly associated with being shy, and there’s a reason for it! Individuals who lack confidence will not usually voice their ideas or opinions for fear of being criticized and being put on the spot without the verbal and non-verbal skills to assert themselves.
When we imagine a shy person, the image that first comes to mind is that of someone a little hunched forward with their head low to avoid eye contact and speaking in a low voice. This is what I mean when I refer to non-verbal signs (or body language) that give away lack of confidence.
First, you have to accept and adapt to your child’s personality. This means you need to avoid criticism, as this will only increase their fear of social judgment and lead to further self-withdrawal, making it harder to come out of his or her shell.
Second, go over the possible causes of this timid behaviour with your child (depending on his or her age, maturity level and awareness of the situation). Has your child always been shy? Or did some negative social experiences trigger this? Could this result from low self-esteem? Knowing the source of this fearfulness will make it easier to find solutions and have a positive influence on the way you handle the situation.
Last but not least, come up with realistic goals for your child. If your little one runs and hides as soon as they hear the doorbell, it might be too much to ask them to answer the door. Instead, start by asking them to stay in the living room instead of running off to their room while you answer. You can also make it fun! For example, a sibling or your spouse could pretend to be a visitor that your child has to greet at the door.
Practising through role-playing or simulations will reduce your child’s anxiety and fear toward these situations, and will help him or her overcome their shyness. This small success will be a source of pride and help them become more confident, one day at a time!