How to Support a Shy Child: It’s Not About Confidence

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Good Inside" by Becky Kennedy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have a child who’s hesitant in social situations? What’s the best way to encourage them?

In her book Good Inside, clinical psychologist and parent Dr. Becky Kennedy contends that hesitancy in a child isn’t about confidence. In fact, she argues, a shy child knows who they are and what makes them comfortable or uncomfortable.

Keep reading to learn how social hesitancy is more about comfort than confidence and how this understanding can help you provide a shy child with the kind of support they need.

Supporting a Shy Child

When kids are shy or hesitant to join in an activity or group, parents often worry that they’re underconfident. But, Kennedy believes that confidence is about being sure of what you feel and what does or doesn’t feel good. A shy child—one who takes their time before joining a group or activity—is giving themself time to build trust in the group and situation. This shows that they’re confident about who they are and what feels good and safe for them.

Kennedy believes that hesitancy can be an important life skill as your child grows into a teenager and adult who will face unsafe situations. Refrain from calling your child shy, for example, because children will identify with the labels we assign them. Instead, describe how they’re taking their time to feel comfortable. Tell your child that they’ll know when they’re ready to jump in and that there’s no rush. This demonstrates that you trust them and that they can trust themself.

(Shortform note: Other experts agree that hesitancy isn’t about being afraid, but there may be more to it than Kennedy implies. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain explains that introverted children are naturally cautious in new situations. This sensitivity may have survived evolution because it’s associated with other survival-enhancing attributes, such as observing carefully, looking before leaping, and processing information thoroughly. To help your hesitant child develop confidence, Cain suggests teaching them how to find a comfortable role in a group, helping them practice speaking up, and role-playing how to behave in various situations.)

How to Support a Shy Child: It’s Not About Confidence

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Becky Kennedy's "Good Inside" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Good Inside summary:

  • A parenting manual to help you build a positive relationship with your child
  • Why time-outs, rewards, and serious conversations don't "fix" kids
  • Strategies to deal with ten common parenting challenges

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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