Every once in a while one of my boys will say something to the effect of “I don’t want to do that. I’m shy.”
This really rubs me the wrong way.
I’ve heard the term shy since I was a small kid. Sometimes used to describe me, many times to describe others.
I really don’t like that word.
Shy Is a Feeling, Not a Trait
Saying someone is shy implies that being shy is part of an individual’s being, rather than a temporary state of feeling discomfort when talking to people or participating in an activity in front of others.
It’s not that I discount that feeling – I’ve had it in spades for much of my life, but at the end of the day, it’s just an uncomfortable feeling.
The problem with kids identifying themselves as “shy” is that it transforms shyness from being a feeling to something that’s part of their identity.
And when a negative trait becomes part of a kid’s identity it can be very hard to escape it.
Shyness is Just Another Fear. Treat it as such.
So when my kids tell me they’re shy, I’ll have none of it.
I just tell them that speaking to or in front of others can just be uncomfortable, but that’s it – it’s just a feeling.
I also tell them if they push themselves to do what they feel shy about more and more, that feeling will gradually diminish.
The view of shyness as a negative feeling that one should purposely expose oneself to is not only healthier but more accurate than viewing shyness as a static trait integral to one’s identity.
It also gives a kid a chance to outgrow the feeling.
In this way, shyness can be viewed as a type of phobia, thus treating it in a similar manner makes sense.