I took my 7-year-old son to his first karate lesson. The class was a room of strangers and moved at a fast pace. My son began to withdraw and wanted to leave. He felt like he was going to throw up. He was able to articulate later that he was regretting taking karate lessons because he feels too shy. What recommendations do you have for me to help my son feel confident and overcome these feelings of anxiety in group settings?
The good news is, scientists have found the gene for shyness. They would have found it sooner but it was hiding behind some other genes.
Just kidding, but I have some good advice on this one.
The first crucial step in helping someone change their behavior is making them feel unconditionally loved and accepted for who they are now.
Make sure your child knows it’s OK to feel shy. It happens to everyone, and there is nothing wrong with him. There are actually some interesting advantages to being shy.
Shy people are usually more polite and considerate to others. Shy people often create better friendships because they go for quality, not quantity. Shy people are better at working independently and solving problems on their own. They are also smarter because they think things through more and take caution before they act.
You do want to help your son overcome his fear of social interactions, though, and feel more confident. Here are some ideas to help your child overcome his fear:
When going somewhere new, talk to your child and prepare him ahead of time. Talk about the anxiety he might feel and what he might feel afraid of. Talk about ways he can cope with his fears and calm himself down. Julie Simons, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist, says, “Children are less likely to feel shy when they know what to expect.”
Plan some safe and successful social interactions. Simons also says, “Plan social events with familiar children so your child can have successful interactions. This can provide a foundation for branching out to new settings with new people.”
Teach him social skills. Some children learn social skills on their own but many need parents to teach, practice and role play with them at home. You can teach your child skills like how to introduce himself and start conversations.
Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” could help you remember some of these skills. Carnegie recommends strategies like asking questions and letting other people do the majority of the talking. This makes people feel important and like you. Teaching children these techniques will empower them to handle any social situation with confidence.
Model healthy social behaviors yourself. Shyness is a highly genetic trait. You must show your child good social skills by example. If you avoid social situations or are nervous around people, you are teaching your child to fear people. Get some professional help with your own self esteem if necessary.
Never criticize your child or embarrass them in public or around their peers. When they make a mistake, help him understand mistakes don't define him. We all make mistakes. He may have made a bad choice, but he is not a bad person. Mistakes are just lessons and nothing to be afraid of.
Teach your child that what other people think of him doesn’t matter. People are usually not paying attention to others anyway. They are focused on themselves. Help him understand that other people’s opinions can’t change or hurt him. They don’t mean anything.
Teach creative problem solving. Don’t solve problems for your child. Ask questions and empower him figure out the answers on his own.
Let your child change slowly. Change is a process and happens slowly, step by step. Help your child set small goals and make a little progress each week. Let him decide what those goals might be. Encourage things like talking to one new person today.
Visualization is a great way to practice social behavior. He can practice handling social situations differently in his head. Teach your child to practice in his mind until he is ready to try it for real.
The best way to encourage another person to change is by encouragement. Tell your child often how confident and capable he is. If you tell him he is strong and brave, he will believe you.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of www.ldslifecoaching.com and www.claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker. She is also the mother of seven children.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.