This is part of our series on kids’ health. Read the other articles in our series here.
When parents observe shyness in their child, they may wonder if it is normal or cause for concern. For instance, in social situations, the child may cling to their parent, be hesitant to speak, reluctant to interact with others, and play alone when in groups more often than other children their age.
Shyness is of more concern if it is persistent rather than temporary. Some children are “slow to warm up” or engage with others, but do engage well after initial hesitancy. Also, some children grow out of shyness during primary school. However, other children demonstrate persistent shyness over time.
Shyness with other children is of more concern than shyness with adults. It is common for children to be wary of adults, particularly men, but less common for children to be wary of children around their own age.
Shyness is of concern if it results in playing alone when in groups of children. When children engage in interaction with peers they learn skills that serve as a foundation for normal development, such as how to understand other people’s feelings and perspectives, take turns in play and conversation, negotiate a mutually enjoyable joint activity, reciprocate friendly overtures and express their point of view in a way that is acceptable to others.
Children who engage in very little social interaction in comparison to children their age are missing out on these important, cumulative learning experiences. As a result, their social cognition, social skills and sense of self may be less mature than those of other children their age.