By: PaxCare Staff
Below, please find a question posed to us by a concerned parent, regarding an issue they had observed their 9-year old to be having in social situations as well as our best advice in response:
“My 9 yr old is bright, playful and energetic, but clams up when in the presence of other children his age. He doesn’t want anything to do with the neighbor kids, and though he does fine academically, the teachers say he hangs back during group activities. I think he’s just shy, but could there be other things going on here?”
It is somewhat unusual for a child of nine to be as withdrawn as you describe, although with the information available, it is difficult to say if there is something more serious going on, such as depression or an anxiety disorder. Either way, I would start with the basics. I wonder, for example, if your child feels incompetent at the games that the other children play, or if they pick on him, or if he is self-conscious about his body, or if he has other concerns of which you are not aware. Your first step needs to be asking him what he feels when he is in the presence of other children, observing, when possible, how other children respond to him, and giving him the skills he might be lacking (for example; teaching him the rules of those games, or role playing the healthy responses to situations he may encounter.)
Even if there is nothing more serious occurring, shyness can be a challenging obstacle to a happy and fulfilling life increasing the possibility of depression and anxiety disorders in adulthood. The good news is that shyness can be reduced significantly in a loving, encouraging environment. You will need to take the long view, but over the next few years, gently and consistently encourage him to take appropriate risks, even to the point of requiring it of him when it is obvious that he is physically capable of a particular activity (though be careful to keep your patience and avoid reducing him to hysterics any time).
Begin challenging his shyness by assessing his comfort zone. For example, is he comfortable playing with one child? Start there, and in a week or two, add another. In another month, expand the playgroup to three, and so on. Whatever the circumstance, begin where he is comfortable, then make him stretch just a little more until he has mastered that level, then ask him to stretch just a little more, all the while complimenting his success and sympathizing with his frustration, but never letting him off the hook for growing in confidence and competence.
It is the hope of the PaxCare staff that you may have found something relevant and useful in the this brief exchange. For more great parenting tips for raising (almost) perfect kids, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.