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My Child Has a Problem

Shyness

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Shyness in kids may be thought of as a variation of temperament. Research suggests that more than 50% of people think of themselves as shy. If your child has exhibited shyness since infancy, fear of strangers and new situations, avoidance of eye contact, she probably has a shy temperament style.

Shyness that begins later in childhood is likely based on cognitive or environmental factors. Fear of embarrassment becomes strong in children around ages 4-5, then again around 12. The feeling of being different is at the core of the shy child's distress. He is fearful of approaching new surroundings or people. He finds it difficult to assert himself in a group, though he likes to watch the others. This point of conflict between the child's fear and his desire to join in offers parents a teaching opportunity. John Malouff describes several strategies that parents can use to help children overcome shyness. He suggests trying several of them for about a month, then sticking with the strategies that work for you.

It's important to distinguish between shyness and social phobia. Experts disagree on the relation between shyness and social anxiety disorders of childhood. The primary difference is the severe anxiety symptoms and extreme avoidance of certain situations.

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