Frederick's Child Magazine - Aug/Sept 2012

Back To School: Helping A Shy Child

Alexandra Mirabelli 0000-00-00 00:00:00

Returning to school after summer break can make any child nervous, but it can be an especially difficult time for shy children who feel more anxious about new or unfamiliar situations than most. Shyness does not have to hinder a child’s ability to enjoy school or succeed academically. A few tricks can help put shy children more at ease. Avoid drawing attention to the “shyness.” Although shyness is not always a negative characteristic, most people view outgoing children as more confident and happier, whereas shyness is seen as a less desirable trait which should be overcome. Helping emphasize a child’s positive qualities such as their compassion or sense of humor can help bolster self-esteem and reinforce the message that their personal characteristics are valuable. Joking about a child’s shyness or admonishing her (e.g., “Don’t be so shy!”) is likely to make things worse. Prepare them for the change. Most children have gotten into a comfortable routine over the summer. They know what they will be doing every day, who they will see, and where they will be. Changes in routine can be disruptive, especially for a shy child. Parents can help minimize the stress of heading back to school by helping their child prepare for what to expect in advance. Some of the best ways to do this include: Bringing him to the orientation or back-to-school night that most schools hold Making sure he has met his teacher Touring the school, even if it is one he attended last year. Asking to see where his classroom will be Making sure he has the required school supplies in advance, and involve him in shopping for them Planning the morning routine in advance, with extra time, to avoid rushing Role Play. School-aged children love to roleplay and this can be an effective way to help them practice how to handle new situations. Role-playing stressful situations such as meeting people and introducing oneself, initiating a conversation, and giving compliments are good ways to help a child become more comfortable in these anxiety-provoking situations. Appropriate ways to show friendliness (using verbal and non-verbal communication) are also useful things to know in terms of navigating social situations and feeling more at ease around others. Children also love to “reverse roleplay” (having a parent role-play as the child) and to correct an inappropriate response with a more effective one. Help them strengthen their peer relationships. The role of social support in reducing anxiety and stress is welldocumented. Having a good friend or two can go a long way in helping a child feel more at ease when returning to school. Re-connecting with school peers and helping the child re-establish relationships with classmates during the last few weeks of summer break works to strengthen his social support network and reduce anxiety, support his self-esteem, and make returning to school more appealing. Keep in mind that shy children probably prefer play dates with one or two children at a time, as larger groups can be more overwhelming. Make sure the play-date is time-limited, provide a fun activity in order to leave the children wanting more, and gauge ahead of time how much guidance your child will require during the play date. Ease in gradually. While most adults have the fortitude and coping skills to successfully push through an uncomfortable or stressful situation, many children have not yet developed these skills. The best way to help a child increase her comfort level is to introduce new situations in small doses, giving lots of praise and positive feedback for even the smallest of baby steps. Follow up. In the evening, make sure to check school folders for papers and homework. Especially at the beginning of the year when lots of information is sent home with the students, they may be asked to do, bring, or wear something specific to school the following day. There are few worse ways for a shy child to start the day than feeling unprepared. Spending a few minutes in the evening “debriefing” after the first day(s) of school can also help a child process their feelings, get them talking about what they liked, and show them that their parent is interested. Know when to seek further help. Extreme shyness or more severe behavior may indicate that professional help is needed. Behavior such as refusing to go to school, having meltdowns about school, increased crying, physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches when faced with school, regressive behaviors such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking, or an increase in aggressive behavior may suggest more serious problems. In this case, speaking with a professional counselor or doctor may be helpful. Dr. Alexandra Mirabelli is a psychologist providing assessment and therapy for children and adults at Frederick Psychology Center.

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