Reprinted with permission from the blog Small World at Home
Bloggers all over iHomeschool Network are talking about the “S-Word”—that word that often sends us homeschoolers into a frenzy of indignation. There is hardly any statement that makes us want to snarl more than a “I could never homeschool my child. She is too social.” Because we homeschoolers are, you know, all a bunch of antisocial dorks. Some great topics are being covered all across the spectrum, from “I Don’t Want My Boys to Be Socialized” to “Socialization: An Imaginary Problem.” Here on SmallWorld at Home, I’m going to just come right out and say that I think it is essential to “socialize” your kids, and by that I mean to provide opportunities for them to interact regularly with other people, including peers.
Sometimes, that is easier said than done. Sometimes, socializing is hard work, especially for those of us who have a shy kid—and if statistics are accurate, nearly half of Americans call themselves “shy.”
(As a disclaimer here here, I’d like to differentiate between being shy and being introverted. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. The article “6 Things You Thought Wrong About Introverts”explains it well. As author Carolyn Gregoire writes, introversion is about needing quiet time to recharge, while “shyness has more to do with discomfort and anxiety in situations involving social interaction.” I have one child who a nearly off-the-charts introvert, but he isn’t the least bit shy. My shyest child is only marginally introverted. My third child is a tiny bit shy and a tiny bit introverted. For the sake of definition, this article is about being intentional about socializing your shy kid, not necessarily your introverted kid.)
When they are little, shy kids hide behind us in new situations and cry when we leave. Shy kids just can’t open their mouths to say “Hi” and get tongue-tied when adults ask confusing questions like, “Cat got your tongue?” Shy kids alternate between wanting to curl up on the couch with a fleece blanket, and wanting to be, well, a not-shy kid. Shy kids want to talk and interact and participate in fast, witty banter. Shy kids want to be able to walk into a room full of strangers and make a friend instantly just by saying “Hi” and smiling. Shy kids want to know what to say and do.
But the truth is, it is awfully darned hard to do when your insides are churning and when you are sure that everyone is staring at you and when you feel like you will absolutely die if your mother walks out that door.
For those of us homeschooling shy kids, there is a temptation to just let it go. It would be so much easier to just stay at home, curled up on the couch, than to watch our shy kid suffer or to feel compelled to make apologies for our shy kid. (Please, if you feel you must apologize for what might be interpreted as “rude” behavior, make sure your shy child is not in listening range!)
But I believe we have an important job as parents of shy kids to intentionally provide social interaction. If parents do not find a way to help a child deal with her nervousness and anxiety around others, the shy child might slip into a world of loneliness and isolation, even though she would really like to be social.
So how can homeschooling parents help socialize the shy ones?
1. Feel confident that you have made the right choice. I know a few parents who chose to send their kids to public school precisely so that “they can get over being shy.” I can tell you as a shy kid, no one ever “gets over” being shy. We learn to deal with our shyness, and we experience various degrees of it at different time of our lives, but “get over” it? Not really. Homeschooling offers your shy child the opportunity to develop social skills at her own pace, rather than being labeled “the shy kid” from the first day of kindergarten—leading to years of insecurity, self-doubt, and anxiety.
2. Look for opportunities for social interaction. Hopefully you have a church with kids and homeschooling support group in your area. Regular activities, like 4-H, co-op classes, Scouts, and American Heritage Girls, offer a more stable environment for your child than occasional field trips. If your group doesn’t have a regular activity like this, you can always start something! When my daughter was five, another friend and I started a small group we called “Kindergarten Girls.” We invited anyone in our co-op with kindergarten girls to join. We met monthly, and each mom led the group one time. We always had games, songs, snacks, and stories centered around some kind of theme (a tea party, for example). With eight girls in the group, this was a fantastic way for my shy girl to make some friends. Over 10 years later, three of those girls are still her very best friends!
3. Be prepared to stay and lead. My little girl hit the height of shyness when she was about 6 years old. It got to the point that I was not able to leave her in a co-op or Sunday School class. She rarely cried openly or sat in a corner until I came back, but my leaving was always traumatic for her. And yet, I knew intuitively that she wanted to be involved in activities. So, I became a leader so that I could be with her. I taught her Sunday School class, I began an American Girls troop, and I began teaching co-op classes. Gradually, as she grew older and felt more secure, she stopped needing me to be there. As a huge added benefit, my daughter has watched me in leadership roles throughout the years and is now, at 16, a confident leader herself.
4. Don’t make a big deal about his shyness. If you are constantly labeling your child, you may be giving him the idea that he can never change. But by the same token, I think it is good to acknowledge to your child that he is shy and that you will find ways together to navigate social situations. Most importantly, make sure your child knows that shyness is not bad. It is not a disease that needs to be cured. God made us all different and made us that way for a reason. For example, talkative kids are more likely to be the center of attention, but shy kids are terrific friends and great listeners.
5. Cultivate good friendships. Don’t hesitate to invite new friends and their parents over to your house for play dates. Your child will be more comfortable on his own turf at first with new friends, but eventually he’ll be happy playing at a friend’s house, as well. Don’t worry about how messy your house is or how much you have to do—just invite friends over regularly. Any exposure that your child has to social situations in a comfortable environment will be tremendously beneficial. And don’t stop as your child gets older. You will find that your child’s shyness decreases as he gets older, but he will still benefit from organized social events. My daughter has been blessed to have a group of fantastic friends for most of her life, but she still needs a bit of encouragement now and then when facing a social situation.
6. Prepare your child for social situations. Is she going to a new co-op class or just a regular night at youth group? Coach her through possible conversations. Tell her to look the teacher in the eye and smile. Give her a few suggestions for conversation (e.g., “I like your scarf! Where did you get it?”). If you are leaving, reassure your child that you will be back 5 minutes early—and make sure you follow through.
7. Find something he really loves and keep doing it. Team sports are often hard for shy kids. If this is true with your child, try something like martial arts, tennis, or swimming. Playing a sport can do wonders for a child’s self-confidence. So can dance, art and music. Don’t force him to play soccer or basketball just because everyone else’s kids do. Get a sense of your child’s passion and direct your focus on that.
8. Never compare your child to another child. Your goal is to raise her confidence level. It will never, ever do anything except deflate your child’s fragile self-esteem if you make her feel somehow less than another child.
9. Let go gradually. You will sense when your child is comfortable enough for you to step out of the room or out of the picture entirely. By the time my daughter was 9 or 10, I remember friends saying, “I can’t believe she is the same shy girl who wouldn’t even talk to me!” She is still shy, and together we continue to navigate being shy in a talkative world. But she has developed at her own pace into a kind, compassionate, beautiful young woman, who, much of the time, would rather listen that talk.
10. Be intentional. Remember, it is your goal to help your child gain confidence socially, not to change who he or she is inherently. If you are a shy person, that means you’ll have to step outside your own comfort zone and be intentional. Have a party, invite a family over for dinner, teach a co-op class, get involved in your church.
We are created to be social creatures; we crave community and relationships. For some, navigating the social scene is as natural as breathing; for others, it is a mystery, a labyrinth, a source of great stress. As homeschooling parents, we have the unique opportunity and challenge to guide and encourage our children to develop community, to become active participants in life. Check out the posts by other iHomeschool Network bloggers to see how they handle challenges of socialization. Do you have a great suggestion for or a story about your own shy kids? I’d love to read your comments!