Extreme Shyness

The Gifts of Shyness

Seeing the term "extreme shyness" listed as something that warrants treatment may cause you to raise an eyebrow or two.

You may be concerned that shyness, a common and normal human trait, is being pathologized.

So, before going any further, I want to highlight the fact that shyness can bring many gifts with it, such as sensitivity, keen observation, depth of thought, deep-felt empathy, and much more.  

We want to nurture each and every one of these valuable gifts in our shy child!

They are crucial in today's world!  

But, at the same time, we want to encourage our shy children to have faith in their own voice--and gently guide them towards a path where they can feel comfortable using it.  See my blog post Empowering Alternatives to the Shy Label for more on this.

So, let me clarify what I mean by extreme shyness and why I believe it often does warrant treatment.


Blurred Lines

There are some common attributes that we often see both in our children with social anxiety and in our children with extreme shyness.  You will find a portrait of a child with a healthy degree of shyness on the social anxiety page of the site.

The line between social anxiety and extreme shyness can be faint.  

An  extremely shy child might not experience the full weight of social anxiety.  But, he or she may still be experiencing a great deal of distress and constriction.

So, the question to ask yourself might be, "Where does my child fall on the shyness continuum?"  Is she regularly missing out on things?  Does she feel uncomfortable on a day to day basis when she's around others?


The Lens of Time

Additionally, when making the distinction between extreme shyness and social anxiety, it can be useful to look through a time lens...  

Social anxiety often does not fully develop until a child is a tween, teen, or young adult...but it doesn't just appear out of the blue.   

If we look back into the childhood of an adolescent, or an adult with social anxiety, we will often find an extremely shy child. 

In fact, Jerome Kagen, a renowned researcher who studies temperament found that behavioral inhibited babies (shy in the common vernacular) tended to become anxious adults. 

So it is critically important to emotionally equip our shy children early on to override this tendency towards anxiety.  And there are so many things that you as a parent can do in this regard.  Remember it's a tendency not a destiny.

You might also be interested in exploring the social anxiety and selective mutism pages of the site to better understand what your child may be experiencing. Click on either picture to go to the corresponding page.

The Content Doesn't Matter

Above I have provided information about extreme shyness, a type of social fear.  But, the type of worry that your child experiences is not what we will focus on in treatment

Focusing on the content of your child's worry is not helpful.

What is helpful is to focus on how worry itself works and to teach your child a new way to respond to it. Your family and child will learn all about this concept in treatment.

Does that mean that we're not going to work with your child around his or her social fear?  Of course not!  But, we will do it in a way that can be generalized to any other worries that your child may have now or down the road. 

The great news is that once children understand how worry works, they will be equipped to manage worry, as its content shifts and changes as they grow.    


Helping Anxious Kids is here to support your family.  If you are seeking anxiety treatment for your child and my approach resonates with you, schedule an appointment today.