“Oh, they’re just shy”

Did your parents ever say this about you as a kid? Have you heard parents say it to you now, about their kids? Or have you been that parent who says this to people, about your kids?

Do you realise that not everyone who is quiet is necessarily shy, and that also goes for children? However, because being quiet is such a common trait, particularly in children, it’s generally just brushed off as shyness. It’s easy to brush it off as shyness, right? You go to a family gathering and your child barely leaves your side, they just put their head down, look to you for support, or even hide themselves away whenever anyone tries to speak to them, and your response is more than likely something along the lines of “sorry, they’re just shy”.

I’ve seen children hide behind their parents when someone speaks to them, and the parent has told them to “stop being silly”, whilst trying to pull them from their hiding place. Parents have even tried to force their children to speak to someone when they go shy, and told them not to be rude.

Are they being rude? Or is it more than that. Could they just be developing social anxiety disorder, or social phobia.

Don’t get me wrong, some kids are just shy – some adults are just shy – but just because they’re children, that doesn’t mean that they can’t develop some form of mental health such as anxiety. It may even start off as being shy when they’re younger, but this shyness may develop in to more as they get older which, if left untreated, can lead to more serious mental health issues. Some people can even develop something called selective mutism, where they are so fearful of speaking to certain people, or people they don’t know, that they just don’t speak at all around those people; although they may have perfectly normal conversations around people they’re comfortable with.

When I was a child I was always “the quiet one”. I say that, but I’m now 28 and I’m still “the quiet one”. I had lots of friends as a kid, but I was still quiet, or shy, especially with teachers or other adults, including family members. It was always brushed off as me being shy and, yeah, maybe when I was 5 I was shy, but once I got older, and in to my teens was I still shy? Or did I have social anxiety disorder?

I don’t remember an awful lot from my childhood, not very many good memories anyway. I always hate when conversations come up about childhood things because I genuinely remember very little from being a child, so when I get asked things like “what was the first tape you ever bought” I honestly couldn’t tell you, because I can’t remember. One thing I do remember is that I was never really encouraged to do very much. I would get involved in certain things, I went to an athletics club for a short while, but I was never really encouraged to continue. I remember going to one Taekwondo lesson, and I just never felt confident enough to go again. I was never encouraged to break that confidence barrier.

There are a lot of things I wish I’d have done, or at least tried when I was younger. I would have loved to have been confident enough to continue with the athletics, I was really good (and you will not hear me say that about myself very often!), so I just think about how good I could have been now if I had. I think my parents generally put things down to me just giving up too easily, or that I just couldn’t be bothered, or that I was “just shy”.

I wasn’t just shy. I’m not just shy now. I struggle, like really struggle, with any form of social situation. I’ve actually been called a “mute”, for times I’ve sat at a table with a group of friends and been silent for almost the entire night because there have been a couple of people there I didn’t feel comfortable around. There are very few people I feel completely comfortable in making plans with, and being around – so, if you are one of them, you should feel super privileged! Even when plans are made with friends, I really work myself up to it, my anxiety goes through the roof. I have definitely gotten better at this over the years, but there are still times when I will feel anxious, sometimes even weeks/months before the actual event.

As adults I think we are able to better identify what we feel, even if we can’t always explain it, so we’re a little better equipped at finding coping techniques, or even professional help for these sorts of circumstances. We understand that it is a severe anxiety that is causing it, so we are able to read up about it, or go to a doctor/professional and say “I have anxiety” and get the right help.

However, as adults, I think we also forget how tough it can be as a kid. Kids are constantly being monitored, and judged. They have school reports and parents evenings which talk about things they do, things they don’t do, how they’re getting on, if they’re doing things wrong, etc. They’re always being compared to other kids, either in school, by their own parents, or by other parents. Everything they do whilst they’re in school is picked up on, and judged, by other children and kids can be mean!

So, when you think about it like that, no wonder some kids develop a social disorder, or they’re “shy”. It’s how you deal with it that makes the difference.

Don’t just assume that your child is shy, and even if they are just shy, help them, encourage them, try things with them to help them come out of their shells. However, if you think it is more than just shyness, please speak to them, try to get them to explain how they feel, speak to a professional and get them diagnosed so that they can receive the help they need.

And please, whatever you do, don’t just keep telling everyone “they’re just shy”. It’s embarrassing, it’s demeaning, and it only makes it worse. It’s like, if you tell someone they’re stupid enough times, eventually they will just start to believe and accept that they’re stupid, that’s the way they are, so what’s the point in trying to change it…

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