Shyness in School-Aged Children

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Shyness & introversion in kindergartener

Nov 2003

Hi-We just had our parent-teacher conference and the teacher told us that our kindergartner son is a bit introverted. I just read the archives on shyness, but I am not sure that it is the same thing as being introverted. He enjoys school and has regular playmates at recess. I guess the issue is that he does not necessarily respond to all social advances. Anyone know of anything I can do to help my son become more outgoing? thanks in advance

you make it sound like introversion is a bad thing. and you are right, introversion is not the same as shyness. you will not be able to force your child to be an extrovert. you can just teach him to say ''no, thank you'' (rather than just ignore requests) if he doesn't wish to engage with others. forcing the issue will make him very uncomfortable. introverted mom of introverted kids

I find the Myers-Briggs personality types useful (and fun) to learn about; introversion vs. extraversion is one aspect of their analysis. You can find tons of books on Myers-Briggs at the library or bookstore: one easy intro is Type Talk by Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen. Those who study personality type through this lens also address children and temperament. (Some books explicitly about children and type: Nurture by Nature by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, and Understanding Your Child's Personality by David A. Stoop.) They warn against trying to turn introverts (maybe 25% of the population) into extraverts, and Type Talk notes the importance of letting these kids do things at their own pace. As an introverted child I was lucky to have parents who valued my personality traits as strengths. That said, I know they also had to help guide me and encourage me to step beyond my comfort zone at times. (One random example: they'd have me phone in our pizza order when I was a pre-teen or so, to help me be more adept at situations like that. I don't remember them ever pressuring me to be more extraverted, though.) I think that your interest in learning about temperament can only help your child be happy in a largely-extraverted world. happy introvert

I found the book ''The Highly Sensitive Child'' informative. Also ''The Highly Sensitive Person'' helped me understand myself a lot better! J12

If your son is happy & doing well in school (and you say he has friends too) I certainly would not worry about the way some teacher is labelling him. Not responding to all social overtures sounds like a positive trait to me, not a negative one. Being an extreme introvert can be a problem in modern society, but mildly introverted is great, in my opinion. I think the worst thing you could do would be to send your son a message that there is anything substandard about his perfectly normal, nice personality. Extroverts -Who Needs 'Em

Is your son's shyness creating problems for him? If not, I wouldn't really worry about it. The world is made up of lots of different types of people -- thankfully so. Imagine a world of loud-mouthed, out-going, extroverts. I always test as an introvert on the Meyers-Brigg exam, although I am a very social person. I take it to mean that I am thoughtful, think before speaking, and listen to others.

My advice? Give it time. Why do I know? I'm an introvert...which is a fancy term for shy and prefers to play/be alone or socialize with only a few children, as opposed to extroverted, which is outgoing. There is NOTHING wrong with being an introvert, we're just less common than extroverted folks and harder to read, especially for teachers. They want to feel every child is really into what they're doing and really wants to be involved. For introverts, getting ''involved'' in an activity takes a lot of comfort with the situation...and time.

My daughter is the same, and her p/s teacher pulled me aside early last year to let me know of her ''concerns'' about my daughter because she was so reserved and reluctant to join in. I assured the teacher that all she needed was time, and she would come out of her shell...the same thing I went through every year of school. So, I'd say if your child is enjoying school and playing with other kids, there's nothing to worry about! a fellow introvert

What's wrong with being introverted? Your best bet is to accept your son the way he is. Karen S.

I do not think of shyness and introversion as necessarily the same thing. Furthermore, introversion is a temperament style and is not a problem!!! Sure, introverts are more likely to feel uncomfortable in certain social situations than extroverts and may do well to learn some techniques for coping with stress related to public situations, but that doesn't mean that they have to stop being introverts. In fact, they can't.

Shyness, of course, can become problematic for people and can interfere with someone's social well-being. (Just a note -- I know plenty of basically extroverted people who experience shyness in certain types of situations.)

There was a great short piece at the end of an Atlantic Monthly a few months ago about being an introvert in an extrovert- centric world. Quite amusing, but also good food for thought. The basic message was: stop trying to fix us because we're not broken. extrovert married to an introvert

Shy Kindergartener or Language problem?

April 1999

The kindergarten teachers told us that our 5-year-old daughter is having trouble answering questions in class even though they know she knows the answer. They see the light bulb go off in her head, but when they call on her she freezes and no answer is forthcoming. (Whereas this happens to everyone occasionally, it seems to happen to her quite often. We don't see thisat home.) I attribute it to shyness, but a family counselor thinks my daughter may have a word retrieval problem (she knows what something is, but can't think of the word) and has recommended that she undergo a speech andlanguage evaluation. The counselor recommended two places for the evaluation: Amy Faltz and Associates and Gage Herman at Children's Hospital. However, our insurance will only pay for it if it's done at Alta Bates/Herricks. Does anyone have anything to say (good or bad) regarding any of these three places? (There is a one-liner on Gage Herman in UCB Parents.) Shyness? Word retrieval problem? Any ideas about whatelse it could be? Does anyone have any words of wisdom or experience with the problem my daughter is said to have?

Gage Herman is a genius, a wonderful person, and extremely supportive to me when I brought my daughter in for speech therapy. I cannot say enough about her.

For more speech therapy recommendations, see: Recommendations: Speech Therapists

Socially uncomfortable 8-year-old

April 1999

I am interested in hearing from other parents of shy children, or adults who were shy as children. I have an 8 year old daughter who is very stoic and socially uncomfortable. She doesn't like sharing vulnerable feelings (even with her warm, loving parents!), and always looks stiff and uncomfortable in new and familiar surroundings. She does get invited to lots of birthday parties, in part, I think, because of my close connections to many of the moms of the kids in her class. She always wants to go to the parties, but often returns looking quite strained. She has one good friend who she has lots of play dates with. She *loves* school and begs to go even when she is ill. I suppose if school was that stressful, she wouldn't want to go. It's hard for me to observe her in class and in other situations where she looks so uncomfortable. At home, she is like a different kid--funny, talkative. Her teachers say she's doing fine, that she is quiet, not shy. I'm not convinced they know her very well. I believe that the smart, quiet (shy) girl often goes unnoticed. Whenever I volunteer in the classroom she looks visibly strained to me. Of course it's possible she behaves differently when I'm not around...

I guess the bottom line is I don't know how much to worry about my daughter nor do I know how to best support her. I would appreciate any tips from parents of children with my daughter's temperament. Also, are there any good books on this topic? Thank you.

I recently heard a show (maybe Forum on KQED?) about shyness and there was a representative of The Shyness Institute on it. I believe they are in Palo Alto and they have a web site at I looked it up because I too have a shy daughter (4 1/2) who sounds much like your little girl--open, funny and talkative at home, and very reserved and uncomfortable in group situations. The web site had a book list and when I emailed them they sent back some titles of books for parents. I also did a search on for children's books about shyness and came up with some good ones in her age range. Good luck!

While I was a student at Stanford, I remember hearing about a Shyness Clinic run by psychologists at Stanford University. They may have some valuable resources for you. The phone number for the Stanford Shyness Study is (650) 723-7498. I have heard many wonderful things about this program/study.

Your daughter sounds a bit like me as a child. I loved school, performed very well, but was often extremely self- conscious/uncomfortable, particularly in elementary school. I was very aware of the social pecking order (and perceived my place in it as very low), extremely worried about embarrassment, and utterly terrified of boys (particularly the popular ones). I think I didn't speak to a boy from about 3rd grade through 6th! I did better in junior high and high school when I was able to surround myself with friends and when the intellectual pecking order (in which I excelled) ecame more important. My early self-consciousness is probably deeply connected to my becoming a sociologist as an adult. If your daughter's shyness doesn't get in the way of her enjoying school and she has the skills to make one-on-one friends (even if she doesn't excel in larger group situations), I wouldn't worry too much. It must be hard to see her be uncomfortable, but there may not be much you can do. It may be that having a sensitive, self-aware temperament may just make it difficult to be a child in the kinds of groups kids are expected to enjoy.

It sounds like your daughter might benefit from a good counselor, who can help her overcome some of the issues she is dealing with and also help her be more comfortable in social situations. This does not sound like just quiet to me; it's sounds painfully familiar! I was very shy as a child, and was in my mid-20's before I really got over it. There's probably no cure for shyness, but it doesn't have to cause a lot of pain; I hope she doesn't have to suffer the way I did!

I am an adult who was painfully shy as a child. Your description of your daughter sounds almost identical to my memories. I was very comfortable at home, until strangers came, or even extended family members. I remember I have a cousin who is 17 years older than I am. I was very close to him when I was a child, he was in the Navy and stationed near our home. I saw him quite often, until he went out on his ship. I cried when he came back because he had a beard. I think it is actually change that I didn't like. I was never comfortable when my Mom came to my classroom because she wasn't supposed to be there. I wanted her there but something was out of place when she got there. She wasn't part of my routine. I gradually grew up and more comfortable with my surroundings. I'm sure your daughter gets invited to lots of parties because she has lots of friends. Don't assume because you don't see it, she doesn't have friends and interact while you're not there. Again, being uncomfortable after a party may just be from being somewhere that was new. I don't think you should worry too much right now. Some of shy folks just don't automatically open up, even with our parents. Good luck.

PS I think I do pretty well now, I had a job in Personnel for several years and there I met new people every day. If your daughters teachers don't see her as being a recluse, I'm sure things will be just fine.

If the child has a good friend, is willing to go to parties and enjoys school, I'd say relax and let her work it out on her own. I think it's natural for a lot of people to be shy in certain situations. As much as we, as parents, would like to fix everything for our kids, we have to admit that we can't resolve everything for them, and sometimes we make it worse by being too anxious ourselves. I'm sure I was shy many times as a child and I don't think my mother could have done anything to make me feel more comfortable. In fact, I have plenty of memories of wishing she would back off a bit and given me a chance to find my own way.