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Help! My Son Is Super Shy

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Guest blogger Lizzie: My son is shy. And when I say "shy," I mean the kid would be invisible if he could. He hides in closets and under beds, and he sleeps buried beneath his covers, like a mole. When new people come over, he refuses to come out. And when our friends come over that he's known for years (as in, since birth), he stands there like he's on hot coals until he's said his hellos and I let him leave. What is that?!

shy boy
Also, he hates change. When he started first grade last year, it was torture for him because he'd have to -- gulp -- meet a new teacher and sit next to a new kid. The teacher couldn't understand it. "He's a smart kid," she'd say, "but his confidence really needs some work." He does have friends, but they're the same boys he's known since preschool. What are the chances he'll remain friends with these kids his whole life? At some point, he's going to have to let new people into his life! 

I am perplexed by his behavior, but my husband says that he was just as weird when he was a kid. This does give me hope, as my husband is the most outgoing, friendly, social person I know. I was a little shy, too, as a kid. I remember hiding behind my mother when we had visitors, but I'd warm up and be sitting on their laps before long. 

My son is now in the second grade, and it's a little better this year because his teacher is the same one he had in kindergarten (she switched grades). He knows her, so it's all good. But what about next year? What about middle school and his teen years? If he doesn't get over this shyness, he's going to miss some important opportunities in life, and that worries me -- especially since he's a warm, funny, affectionate boy with people he's comfortable with. Very few know his true personality. 

Moms, have any of you dealt with an uber-shy kid like mine? What did you do to bring him out of his shell? Do I need to get my son counseling? Help!

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6 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kathy October 4, 2010, 10:22 AM

I had a family member who was basically how you describe your son. He was diagnosed with a social phobia called. Selective Mutism. He was put on mild medications and it helped him get over his social fears enabling him to take the next to being “more social”. He is now a teen in Jr. High school and has become a very socially comfortable person without medication. I know some people do not believe in medication for young children but seeing the end results I see that he really needed them to get to the next step in socializing.
I do not know how severe things are aside from what you wrote, but I would suggest asking his doctor about it. Especially if you truly believe that it is a problem and not something that should be shrugged off. Since your child really has a hard time speaking for himself, you may not even know how severe his fears really are. So a talk with the doctor is probably best

KS October 4, 2010, 10:46 AM

I would follow my gut on this one. Even though your husband seems to find this normal you obviously don’t. I wouldn’t either. Teachers are great resources. They know who are good with kids and who aren’t so start there. If anything you will at least be on the right track.

Medication may or may not be what you want to do but at the very least a counselor will know techniques your son can practice and it will eventually make meeting people tolerable and some time later (fingers crossed) actually enjoyable.

Ezz October 5, 2010, 5:19 AM

I was like your son as a kid. I am still shy it’s my nature but I have lots of friends, I stand on front of a class of 16 adults each working day teaching, I sing for a hobby and have done so infront of 2000 people without being nervous. However at a party I still won’t talk to anyone new unless they talk to me first. I have girlfriends, I have a daughter and a rich and full life. Not once have I taken meds to help. In the end you are who you are and you should be true to your nature.

Lisa October 5, 2010, 6:23 AM

My son was EXACTLY like your son at that age. He was diagnosed with social phobia and selective mutism. He is almost 14 and is doing very well in middle school. He has friends and talks to teachers, etc. He has been going to therapy and taking medication since he was 7 and I first heard the term “selective mutism.” It is a slow process to get these kids more comfortable in social situations.

I completely feel your pain. It used to break my heart how bright, funny, outgoing, loving my son was at home and very few people ever saw that side of him. As he got older, he let more and more people in. The internet, facebook, etc. have been a great way for him to let people into his life.

It gets easier, I promise! But I do recommend finding a therapist who understands anxiety disorders. They can advise you as to activities you can do with your son to increase his self-confidense. (Like ordering his own food at a restaurant, etc.)

Anonymous October 5, 2010, 8:07 PM

Hi Lizzie,

I’m the Director of an educational program called Brain Highways. We work with kids who are struggling for various reasons, including those who are very shy and aren’t able to show everyone how smart, creative, and funny they truly are.

It turns out that there’s often a physiological explanation (related to natural brain development) for many concerning behaviors (including what you described), yet most people don’t know about this connection.

There are some short entertaining videos at that explain more about this.

Hope this information may give you some new insights as to what may be going on with your son.

Kind regards,
Kiley Green

Jenna October 9, 2010, 1:49 PM

Have patience. Absolutely, seek the psychological help people have offered, and trust your mother’s intuition that something is wrong, and this is more than shyness. But until you hear professional advice on beating this, please be patient.

As a shy child, there was nothing that drove me into my shell more than hearing an adult tell me that I was smart, but I needed more confidence. Shyness was never something I chose, it is a paralysis. I wanted nothing more than to be able to talk, act, and live as confidently as everyone else could. I can’t emphasize enough how badly I wanted to be not shy. But no matter how hard I tried, the shyness just kicked in again, and it was unbeatable. It wasn’t until I got treatment for a phobia at age 9 that I started to recover and learn techniques for beating shyness from a therapist who’d been there.

For most extroverts, being social is so simple that it’s hard to understand how it could be a challenge. So the techniques most extroverts recommended to me were well-meant, but not helpful. Take some time to read up on introverts. Introversion doesn’t mean being anti-social - healthy introverts live full lives with many happy friendships - it means being totally comfortable with being alone. It sounds like your son needs help balancing the the need to be alone with the need for healthy relationships, and that’s fine. But he will probably always be an introvert, and the more you understand about that, the better. It can be a very good trait. :)

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