Too Shy? One Child’s Journey from Wallflower to Winner

Jessie when she was a shy child

Shy Children Breaking Out of Their Shells

Dr. Robyn Silverman

I’ve received an interesting question from a concerned father after I posted an article about 10 tips for working or parenting shy children. “Have you ever really seen a shy child who came out of her shell?” Yes I have.  It’s a true story that I tell when I present on working with all different kinds of students at national conferences. And today, I’d love to share it with you.

I know parents have been a little alarmed about what might happen to their shyer children as they grow up.  DO they grow “out of it?” This concern has grown since the news came out this July about babies who were born too prematurely are more likely to grow up to be timid and less likely to get married and have children.

Eight year old Jessie was the quintessential wallflower. Short with straight brown hair, she always stood in the back line, last person on the right. If she didn’t have a wall to stand behind, her body language seemed to create one.

Her teacher, Guro Jason, made sure to start noticing her. Slowly at first, he made eye contact. He provided an encouraging word. He nodded at her from across the room.

Overtime, Jesse showed that her focus was sharp and her skills were clean. Her instructor began to spotlight her during class. “Great execution, Jessie. Great finesse!” He turned the class’s attention towards her as an example, even where she stood, in the back line near the wall. She would tell us later, no teacher ever really noticed her before.

Jessie’s hard work earned her a spot in the Black Belt Club. Her new uniform seemed to make her stand taller than she did before.

One week, Guro Jason asked to talk to Jessie after class. “I’ve been impressed with your consistent good work in class. If I called on you, would you be open to being my demo partner for one of the skills we’re learning in class? Jessie looked nervous, but, as she would months later, “he made me believe in me.” So Jessie quietly said “yes, sir.

Jessie doing a demonstration of some stretching

Before class, Jason pre-framed Jessie. At first, he asked her to show an easy stretch that he knew she felt comfortable executing. But later, he would ask her to show some of her stick work, which, while new, she seemed to catch onto quickly.

After a few weeks of having Jessie demonstrate the same drills over and over, Guro Jason had a special request. “Would you be open to leading the entire intermediate level (across classes) in this stick drill during graduation? Graduation was performed in front of hundreds of people. She looked petrified. Still, she said a little more loudly that before, “yes sir.

Jessie practicing for graduation

Jessie practiced everyday.  She was focused.  She was ready.

At graduation, Jessie stood in front of 125 other students. Set” Guro Jason yelled. And something in this little girl clicked. She reached within herself and called out, loudly enough to fill the middle school gym, “Yes, Sir!” Her counts were loud, her eyes, focused, and her movements, flawless. People clapped and cheered. Her parents cried. OK, I cried.

After graduation, people remarked how martial arts transformed Jessie into a different kid. But I had to correct them. By allowing her to take on a leadership position that fit her skill set, in her own time, we were allowing her to transform herself from wallflower to winner.

Thanks for visiting! Please give us your tips for working and parenting children who seem shy, nervous, or timid.  And if you have a child who may seem a bit shy, please contact me and I would be happy to give you a list of Powerful Words member schools by you.  It’s a great opportunity for children to realize their own potential in their own time.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

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10 Tips for Working with Children with Poor Self Confidence

shy child

10 Tips for Working with Shy Children, Nervous Children, or Children who Lack Self Confidence

Dr. Robyn Silverman

It can be frustrating to work, teach, or parent children who lack confidence who seem shy or nervous.  Especially when you are an outgoing, confident person, shy and nervous children can seem like a mystery. That acknowledgment aside, you need to be sensitive and tolerant of children who are shy or nervous, or who lack confidence.

When working with shy or nervous children, remember to…

(1) Tell them never to fear asking questions: Questions lead to knowledge and knowledge leads to confidence.Don’t toss off questions as trivial, silly, rude or annoying.  When children question, they learn.

(2) Share Your stories about trials to triumph: When they hear your struggles and how you overcame them, they will learn that they can overcome their struggles as well. You can be a role model in action as well as in discussion.

(3) Highlight that persistence leads to success: We’ve heard it before. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall but rather, how many times you get up. People value persistence! Let them know that perseverance is more important that getting it right the first few times.

(4) Encourage them in the areas in which they excel: Many teachers and parents make the mistake of paying attention only when a child is struggling. Instead, focus on the child when he’s doing something right and when he can be a positive example to others. Nothing breeds confidence like feeling successful.

(5) Let them know it’s safe to make mistakes: You do it, they do it, their heroes do it, and their teachers do it too! Everyone makes mistakes. Many children are afraid to try because they’re afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes often lead to judgment. Make sure that these children know that they will never be judged negatively when they do their best and try their hardest—even if it doesn’t lead to success right away. Encourage them to “try, try again!”

(6) Praise appropriately: If they failed, don’t tell them they did well. You belittle them by doing so. They know what empty praise is by now. Help them to figure out what they can do to fix the problem and praise them for their courage and perseverance. Relay that you believe in them and with persistence, they will be successful.

(7) Help them to balance their goals with realistic expectations: Goals may take a while to achieve. We can’t all be an elite gymnast, swimmer or martial artist the moment we step into training. Goals are great but take time. We need to help these children understand that they move forward in benchmarks not leaps and bounds. By assisting them in mapping out their benchmarks, they will see that they are making progress.

(8) Don’t compare them with your confident children: Each child is an individual. By saying things like, “why aren’t you out there with the other children?” or “Katelyn is showing courage by doing X, why can’t you do the same thing?” you are only making the child feel bad and not honoring her own individual needs.

(9) Celebrate successes before moving on: Often, when a goal is achieved, we’re already onto the next goal before celebrating the success of the current one. It’s important for children to celebrate their success each time it happens. Let him or her take credit for those successes and talk about the qualities in your child that lead to that success. “You were courageous and persistent—you did it! Congratulations for sticking it out!”

(10) Accept your child unconditionally: Some children are shy or nervous while others are outgoing. Your child needs to know that whatever way they are, you accept them and you’re not trying to change them.

While these tips are especially important for shy children or children who lack confidence, they work for all children!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs