Why are kids shy

Children and shyness - Better Health Channel


Read the full fact sheet
  • A shy child is anxious or inhibited in unfamiliar situations or when interacting with others.
  • Most children feel shy from time to time but the lives of some are curtailed by their shyness.
  • In severe cases, professional help may be advisable.

A shy child is anxious or inhibited in unfamiliar situations or when interacting with others. A shy child is most likely to be nervously constrained if they feel they are ‘on show’, such as when meeting someone new or having to speak in front of others. A shy child is much more comfortable to watch the action from the sidelines rather than join in.

Most children feel shy from time to time but the lives of some are severely curtailed by their shyness. Children who suffer from extreme shyness may grow out of it as they mature or they may grow up to be shy adults. Parents can help their children to overcome mild shyness. In severe cases, professional help may be advisable.

Complications of shyness

Constant and severe shyness can reduce the quality of a child’s life in many ways, including:

  • Reduced opportunities to develop or practise social skills.
  • Fewer friends.
  • Reduced participation in fun and rewarding activities that require interaction with others, such as sport, dance, drama or music.
  • Increased feelings of loneliness, unimportance and reduced self-esteem.
  • Reduced ability to reach full potential because of their fear of being judged.
  • High anxiety levels.
  • Embarrassing physical effects such as blushing, stammering and trembling.

Shyness has positive aspects too

Shy behaviour is associated with a number of positive behaviours including:

  • Doing well at school.
  • Behaving and not getting into trouble.
  • Listening attentively to others.
  • Being easy to look after.

Possible causes of shyness

Some of the possible causes of shyness, often working in combination, may include:

  • Genetics – aspects of personality can be decided, at least in part, by the individual’s inherited genetic makeup.
  • Personality – emotionally sensitive and easily intimidated babies are more likely to grow up to be shy children.
  • Learned behaviour – children learn by imitating their most influential role models: their parents. Shy parents may ‘teach’ shyness to their children by example.
  • Family relationships – children who don’t feel securely attached to their parents or who have experienced inconsistent care-giving, may be anxious and prone to shy behaviour. Overprotective parents may teach their children to be inhibited and afraid, especially of new situations.
  • Lack of social interaction – children who have been isolated from others for the first few years of their lives may not have the social skills that enable easy interaction with unfamiliar people.
  • Harsh criticism – children who are teased or bullied by significant people in their lives (parents, siblings and other close family members or friends) may tend towards shyness.
  • Fear of failure – children who have been pushed too many times beyond their capabilities (and then made to feel bad when they didn’t ‘measure up’) may have a fear of failure that presents itself as shyness.

The vicious cycle

If a child acts shy in a social situation, they may berate themselves for their behaviour afterwards. This self-reproach can make them more self-aware and self-judgemental and actually increase the likelihood of the child behaving shyly in future. As time goes on, their confidence and self-esteem may start to falter. The less confident a child feels, the more likely they are to behave in a shy way.

Parental attitudes are crucial

Parents are very influential in their children’s lives – probably much more than parents realise. Suggestions include:

  • Be careful not to label your child as ‘shy’. Children (and adults) tend to live up to the labels others give them.
  • Don’t let other people label your child as shy either.
  • Never criticise or mock your child when they are shy. Be supportive, empathic and understanding.
  • Encourage your child to talk about the reasons for their shyness – what are they afraid of?
  • Tell your child about times in your life when you have been shy and how you overcame it. Since young children often see their parents as perfect, admitting to your own shyness can make your child feel better and reduce their overall anxiety.
  • Be outgoing yourself. Model confident behaviour and lead by example.

Strategies for the parent

It is possible for the parent to encourage their child to be more outgoing. Strategies depend on the individual child and circumstances but can include:

  • Share personal coping strategies you’ve learned over the years on overcoming shyness. Practice these strategies with your child.
  • Tell your child about the many advantages of not being shy. Offer examples from your own life.
  • Encourage outgoing behaviour. Praise your child when they handle an unfamiliar situation or meet a new person without resorting to shyness.
  • Try goal-setting with your child. Aim for small, incremental steps and praise them for their progress. For example, saying ‘hello’ to another child may be a big first step.
  • Deliberately take your child into new situations. Aim for small changes in behaviour first and gradually build up. For example, reward a child if they greet someone who is new to them. Be supportive.
  • Make sure your child is allowed to excel in what they do best. Praise them for skills they have mastered.

Professional help

If your child’s shyness is especially debilitating, you may like to consider professional help from a counsellor or psychologist. Treatment options include:

  • stress management
  • relaxation strategies
  • counselling sessions
  • social skills training.

Where to get help

  • Your GP (doctor)
  • Psychologist
  • Parentline Tel. 13 22 89
  • Kids Helpline Tel. 1800 551 800

  • Shyness, Child and Youth Health South Australia.

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

Shyness: Causes, Signs, and Treatment

Shyness: Causes, Signs, and Treatment
  • Health Conditions
    • Featured
      • Breast Cancer
      • IBD
      • Migraine
      • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
      • Rheumatoid Arthritis
      • Type 2 Diabetes
    • Articles
      • Acid Reflux
      • ADHD
      • Allergies
      • Alzheimer's & Dementia
      • Bipolar Disorder
      • Cancer
      • Crohn's Disease
      • Chronic Pain
      • Cold & Flu
      • COPD
      • Depression
      • Fibromyalgia
      • Heart Disease
      • High Cholesterol
      • HIV
      • Hypertension
      • IPF
      • Osteoarthritis
      • Psoriasis
      • Skin Disorders and Care
      • STDs
  • Discover
    • Wellness Topics
      • Nutrition
      • Fitness
      • Skin Care
      • Sexual Health
      • Women's Health
      • Mental Well-Being
      • Sleep
    • Product Reviews
      • Vitamins & Supplements
      • Sleep
      • Mental Health
      • Nutrition
      • At-Home Testing
      • CBD
      • Men’s Health
    • Original Series
      • Fresh Food Fast
      • Diagnosis Diaries
      • You’re Not Alone
      • Present Tense
    • Video Series
      • Youth in Focus
      • Healthy Harvest
      • No More Silence
      • Future of Health
  • Plan
    • Health Challenges
      • Mindful Eating
      • Sugar Savvy
      • Move Your Body
      • Gut Health
      • Mood Foods
      • Align Your Spine
    • Find Care
      • Primary Care
      • Mental Health
      • OB-GYN
      • Dermatologists
      • Neurologists
      • Cardiologists
      • Orthopedists
    • Lifestyle Quizzes
      • Weight Management
      • Am I Depressed? A Quiz for Teens
      • Are You a Workaholic?
      • How Well Do You Sleep?
    • Tools & Resources
      • Health News
      • Find a Diet
      • Find Healthy Snacks
      • Drugs A-Z
      • Health A-Z
  • Connect
      • Breast Cancer
      • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
      • Psoriatic Arthritis
      • Migraine
      • Multiple Sclerosis
      • Psoriasis

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — By David Heitz — Updated on September 27, 2019


Shyness is a feeling of fear or discomfort caused by other people, especially in new situations or among strangers. It’s an unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness — a fear of what some people believe others are thinking.

This fear can inhibit a person’s ability to do or say what they want. It can also prevent the formation of healthy relationships.

Shyness is often linked to low self-esteem. It may also be one of the causes of social anxiety.

Shyness can vary in strength. Many people feel mild feelings of discomfort that are easily overcome. Others feel extreme fear of social situations, and this fear can be debilitating. Inhibition, withdrawal from social activities, anxiety, and depression can result from shyness.

Shyness encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviors. It’s normal for children to sometimes feel shy in new situations. Perceptions of shyness may also be cultural.

Some cultures, such as many of those in the United States, tend to regard it negatively. Others, such as some Asian cultures, tend to regard shyness more positively.

About 15 percent of infants are born with a tendency toward shyness. Research has shown biological differences in the brains of shy people.

But a propensity for shyness also is influenced by social experiences. It’s believed that most shy children develop shyness because of interactions with parents.

Parents who are authoritarian or overprotective can cause their children to be shy. Children who aren’t allowed to experience things may have trouble developing social skills.

A warm, caring approach to rearing children usually results in them being more comfortable around others.

Schools, neighborhoods, communities, and culture all shape a child. Connections a child makes within these networks contribute to their development. Children with shy parents may emulate that behavior.

In adults, highly critical work environments and public humiliation can lead to shyness.

Not all children who play alone happily are shy. Fear and anxiety are elements of shyness.

One of the first signs that a child’s shyness might be a cause for concern is that they never want to leave their parent’s side.

Children who do poorly in their studies or who have a difficult time making friends should be evaluated for shyness. Those who have been victimized by bullying are at risk for developing shyness.

Children who are constantly ridiculed may exhibit aggressive behavior as an overcompensation for shyness. Those who have experienced neglect are at risk as well.

Sometimes, shy children aren’t diagnosed and treated. Unlike many other emotional disorders, shyness often doesn’t result in a child causing problems. Frequently, there are no tantrums or aggressive behavior to raise red flags and encourage treatment.

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, anxiety — which is more than shyness — affects approximately 7 percent of children aged 3 to 17 in the United States.

Therapists can assess a child for shyness by engaging them in activities such as charades and board games. They may also use puppets and dolls to get the child to open up.

Overcoming extreme shyness can be essential for the development of healthy self-esteem. Shyness can result in difficulties at school and difficulties forming relationships.

Psychotherapy can help children cope with shyness. They can be taught social skills, how to be aware of their shyness, and ways to understand when their shyness is the result of irrational thinking.

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing can help children and adults cope with anxiety, which may underlie shyness. Group therapy can also be helpful in children and adults experiencing shyness.

There are effective treatments for adults with anxiety who have difficult completing daily activities. However, severe anxiety often goes untreated.

In rare instances, medication can provide temporary relief for shyness.

To prevent or manage shyness, parents and guardians can help children develop the following skills:

  • coping with change
  • managing anger
  • using humor
  • showing compassion
  • being assertive
  • being kind
  • helping others
  • keeping secrets

All of these abilities can help children be at ease among their peers.

Last medically reviewed on September 27, 2019

How we reviewed this article:

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Anxiety disorders. (2017).
  • Painful shyness in children and adults. (n.d.).
  • Rubin KH, et al. (2010). The development of shyness and social withdrawal. New York, NY: Guilford.
  • Social anxiety disorder. (n.d.).
  • Shyness in children. (2009).

Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Share this article

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — By David Heitz — Updated on September 27, 2019

Read this next

  • Yes, Introversion and Social Anxiety Are Two Different Things

    Medically reviewed by Jeffrey Ditzell, DO

    Wondering if you’re an introvert or dealing with social anxiety? Learn about how they’re different, when they coexist, and where shyness fits into all…


  • Shy Bladder (Paruresis)

    Medically reviewed by Suzanne Falck, MD

    A person with shy bladder experiences significant anxiety when they have to use the restroom in public places. Shy bladder is a common and treatable…


  • Pathological Anxiety: What You Need to Know

    Medically reviewed by Danielle Wade, LCSW

    Pathological anxiety is anxiety that is above and beyond the expected emotional response to a given situation. Learn more.


  • 5 Ways to Really Help Someone with Social Anxiety

    People don't always know how to deal with a friend's social anxiety. Here are five ways to be there.


  • Will Prozac Work for Your Anxiety?

    Prozac (fluoxetine) is a brand-name medication prescribed to treat depression, OCD, and anxiety. We explain how it works and why it may help treat…


  • The Best Anxiety Tools: An Expert’s Advice

    Medically reviewed by Karin Gepp, PsyD

    From essential oils to journals to meditation apps, you have plenty of options for tools to help ease anxiety symptoms. Check out our top picks.


  • How to Recognize Selective Mutism and Tips to Get Support

    Medically reviewed by Mia Armstrong, MD

    The main sign of selective mutism is the inability to speak in certain situations. Get the details on this anxiety condition and how to treat it.


  • Yes, Adults Can Have Selective Mutism — Learn the Causes and How to Cope

    Medically reviewed by Kendra Kubala, PsyD

    Selective mutism is a type of anxiety where you can't speak in certain contexts. Though most common in children, it can also affect adults.


  • Tackling Math Anxiety: From Diagnosis to Treatment and More

    Medically reviewed by Karin Gepp, PsyD

    Millions of adults and children live with math anxiety, but there are plenty of resources to help.


Why children are shy and how parents can help them

Most of us know what it means to be shy and to experience the excitement of meeting the unknown, whether it be people or new life situations. Usually this condition is accompanied by a feeling of fear, physical discomfort and concern about what others will think. According to various data , shyness is not such a rare occurrence, and 20-48 percent of people are shy in one way or another.

Shy babies may hide behind and hold onto a parent tightly, turn away from the other person and close their eyes, become visibly anxious and even cry. Older children may refuse to play with others and stay close to their adult. Such children feel more comfortable just watching what is happening and not taking an active part. nine0005

While many children are sometimes indecisive, some are more shy. There are several possible reasons for such behavior:

Heredity: first of all, shyness can be a manifestation of the temperament and character of the child. This means that he just needs more time to “turn on” and start acting in a new environment. Researchers say that in new situations, the brain of such children reads and processes more information and is activated more than others. On the one hand, this can make them more anxious, but on the other hand, it can make them more thoughtful and sensitive. nine0005

Learned Behavior: Children copy the behavior they observe in significant adults. If the parents themselves are shy, then the children will behave in a similar way.

Relationships in the family: lack of support and acceptance from parents, criticism and comparison with others, inconsistent care, overprotection or neglect of the needs of the child in the family can negatively affect overall self-confidence and manifest itself in indecisive behavior.

Adapting to big changes: moving to a new place of residence, to another city, changing kindergarten or school. nine0005

Lack of communication skills and experience in social interaction.

Sometimes behavior that appears to be just shyness can be caused by speech delays (the child tries to say something but is not understood and speaks less), hearing problems (the child does not hear or respond when spoken to ) or a manifestation of an autism spectrum disorder (the child does not read social cues, does not play with others, and seems uninterested in communication). If parents notice something similar, it is worth contacting specialists. nine0005

Specialists don't count as . Shyness, in their opinion, is most often a form of adaptive behavior in unusual situations, and all children cope with them differently.

Perhaps parents should pay more attention if the child becomes more shy abruptly and after certain events. But, if the child has always been shy, then it’s better to just accept it, support him and not try to “fight” with it. Shyness may decrease as you get older and gain social skills and social experience. However, even if shyness does not completely go away for some children, over time they still learn to behave more confidently and feel more comfortable around others. nine0005

It is worth noting that specialists do not advise to call such children "shy" because this can give them the feeling that something is wrong with them, reinforce and exacerbate their indecisive behavior. Instead, you can say that they just need more time to get used to new people and situations.

Tips for Parents of Toddlers:

  • Give your child time to get comfortable in a new situation or with new people. There is no need to force the child to go into the arms of an unfamiliar adult, let the unfamiliar person at first just stay nearby. nine0042
  • In new places and among new people, be close to your child and encourage him to explore new things. As the child becomes more comfortable, you can gradually leave him to play without you.
  • Let your baby know that his experiences are normal and that you will help him deal with them. You can, for example, say: “I see that you are worried because you don’t know who will be in the game room. Let's take a look together before we go."
  • Do not pity the child too much, as if you yourself think that he really has something to be afraid of. nine0042
  • Praise your child for being brave by talking about what he did and what it led to. For example, “I liked the way you said hello to the boy in the park. Did you notice that he smiled when you did this?
  • Try to be confident and friendly yourself, because your child will copy your behavior.
  • If other people say that your child is "shy", politely correct them so that the child can hear it too. “He just needs a little more time to tune in. When he feels ready, he will gladly jump into the game." nine0042

Tips for parents of preschool and primary school children:

  • Encourage children to play at home or with friends. If the child was invited to visit for the first time, he may be more comfortable if you go together.
  • Practice doing things like presentations at home with your child. This will help him prepare for speaking in front of other people in the garden or school.
  • Encourage your child to do extra social activities after school. nine0042
  • Do not compare your child to other children who may be more confident.

Additional help may be needed only if shyness causes a lot of anxiety in the child and this prevents him from doing everything that other children do:

  • If the child refuses to go somewhere because he is shy or school)
  • If the child is very anxious at children's parties or at school
  • If the child says that he is bored and lonely, but does not know how to play and make friends with other children
  • If the child is afraid to answer or ask questions in class
  • If the child is worried about his own shyness.

Why the child is shy. How to teach not to be shy

In the 21st century, where confidence and activity are valued, shy children have a hard time.

Shyness gives rise to a number of significant difficulties in relation to others:

  • the child has difficulty meeting / getting to know new people
  • expressing one's opinions and thoughts causes difficulties
  • withdrawnness develops
  • shyness can be accompanied by depression, anxiety, feeling of loneliness.

Imagine how a shy child feels in new unusual circumstances or in situations with unfamiliar people: his mouth dries up, his tongue refuses to pronounce words, blood rushes to his cheeks, he wants to fall through the ground or become invisible.

In such situations, you can hear from parents: “Do not be shy!”, but this is not an effective method at all. nine0005

Shyness in a child can have different sources:

1. Peculiarities of the age period

Children’s shyness is more often characteristic of primary school age, but adolescence, when the child begins to doubt himself and experience new social fears ( condemnation, criticism).

2. Inability to communicate

Most children lack social interaction skills because parents do not always teach them how to communicate properly. Psychologists advise in this case to practice getting to know the baby, answering simple questions. nine0005

3. Character trait (congenital shyness)

Shyness is also part of the baby's innate characteristics. Such children have a sensitive nervous system.

4. Acquired shyness

Moving to a new place, ridicule from classmates, a child's peculiarity - all this can affect the child.

How to help a shy child?

Such children need a special approach from their parents, they should be treated more gently. After all, they will perceive any dissatisfaction, a raised voice as criticism and reproach themselves. However, hyper-custody will not lead to anything good: the ability to make independent decisions will be reduced to zero. nine0005

To help a shy child, psychologists recommend that parents work on mistakes: