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Helping Children, or Anyone, to Overcome Shyness

19 September 2014

You may think today would be a strange day to write on the topic of children and being shy.

  • Student Elections at the British International School Shanghai, Puxi

We have a large proportion of the school taking part in musical performances to kick start our 10 year anniversary with our 10 Hours of Music playathon. In addition to this challenge we also have our School Council presidential election where we have 10 secondary school students from Year 7 through to Year 13 who are determined, brave and confident enough to stand in front of the whole of the secondary school and deliver a speech on why they should be the next school council president. 

We hope these events inspire others to actions and build confidence in those that are not taking part. For those that aren’t comfortable with interaction we have got to get away from using the time honoured statement don’t be shy. As teachers (and parents) we need to understand the habits of shy people and hopefully offer some solutions to help them overcome what for some may be a small problem but for others may need to lead to help from a physician.

Academic research has traditionally defined shyness as being an intrapersonal problem, arising within certain individuals as a result of characteristics such as excessive self-consciousness, low self-esteem and anticipation of rejection. This problem is not just related to students, it can be seen in all walks of adult life as well.

Shyness is not a choice or a behavioural problem and sometimes it can be hereditary, but there are some things we can do to help our children. Recognising that someone is shy is an important first step, it can range from the mild blush to the social anxiety of sweating, trembling, hyperventilating and having an over heightened sense of personal awareness about how one is being perceived.      

As teachers we are trained to find the balance between luring students out of their shell but also being aware that sometimes students being forced to do something may not be productive. In these instances alternative displays of learning can be found with modern technology helping, such as students  filming themselves at home  in a comfortable space  or using a quiet classroom can be an alternative. 

It is important to offer plenty of social opportunities. Many of our lessons here at BISS Puxi offer structured classroom social interactions such as group projects and pairing and sharing exercises. Parents can help children by offering to host friends or taking students to social opportunities (and giving your children space to interact).

Teachers and parents have to realise that a shy child is not going to simply become an extrovert overnight. As parents and teachers it is important we recognise shy people and supportively help them recognise their behaviour. Discussing being shy with your child and telling them about situations you have felt the same way, helps students not to feel isolated. Allowing students to take planned small safe risks allows them to build their vision of themselves in small steps.

Shyness has affected most of us at one time or another and as teachers you can notice some national predispositions in our student body.  Being shy is something that can go beyond being an emotional issue, it is something that can lead to other issues with physical health and even body issues and while this is no means a direct line of behaviour for all, it is something to be aware of. 

An interesting study by one of the world’s leading shyness academics Dr Bernardo Carducci in Psychology Today, may give you some extra solutions that can help people of all ages.

I hope you have a great weekend and just be aware that at 11:30am this Saturday there is a Shanghai wide air raid siren test, so do not feel any anxiety about this annual Shanghai test that surprises many expats.

- Chris Share, Head of Secondary

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