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How Can I Help My Shy Child Put Themselves Out There In High School?
As a parent, you know your child better than almost anyone, and it will be clear to you by the time high school rolls around if you have a child who’s particularly shy. Those high school students who are the most extroverted and confident may sometimes get more attention and praise for their accomplishments than those who are quieter, which may raise concerns for you as a parent.
A particular worry for many parents of shy kids is that shyness and its effects on a student’s academic and extracurricular careers will become a liability when it comes to college admissions. Shy high school students certainly face some special challenges, but these are far from insurmountable. As a parent, there’s a lot you can do to help, support, and guide your child as they work on gaining confidence, coming out of their shell, and putting themselves out there.
Read on for more about why it’s important to address your child’s shyness now, as well as some dos and don’ts for parents who want to help.
The importance of addressing shyness
It’s not uncommon for high school students to be shy. Many young people struggle with skills like speaking up in a group or performing in public. Of course, this extends to adults as well—think about how many people profess to have a fear of public speaking.
Being shy, as a personal quality, isn’t in itself a deal-breaker when it comes to your child’s ability to achieve their goals. In itself, the word “shy” can cover a broad range of feelings and behaviors. Some people are quieter, more introverted, less social, or less interested in certain social settings than others, simply as a matter of human variation, and these aren’t intrinsically negative qualities.
When shyness becomes a problem is when it gets in the way of the things a student needs to do to present themselves well, interact with important people, and otherwise progress towards their goals. If your child’s shyness is causing distress or concern in this way, it’s worthwhile to put some conscious work into addressing this problem.
Confidence, communication abilities, and the ability to present oneself well are necessary skills for high school students to learn, as they’ll use these skills throughout their lives at work, in public spaces, and even at home. It’s essential for every student to work on these skills, whether or not they come naturally—and, in fact, especially if they don’t come naturally.
For the college admissions process in particular, it’s essential that your child be able to “sell themselves” to the colleges in which they’re interested. Active self-promotion is necessary if admissions officers are to be able to see the full range of a student’s good qualities. They can’t take into account what your child doesn’t tell them.
Below, we’ll go over a number of general dos and don’ts for you to consider as you dive into the project of helping your child manage their shyness. Every child is different, of course, and you absolutely should use your special insight into your child’s mindset and motivations to tailor your support to their needs. However, there are a number of general things that a parent can do (and not do) to try and help a shy teenager succeed.
Dos for parents
In your role as a parent, you’re a major influence in your child’s life— even if that child might sometimes like to deny it. Here are a few tips on how you can use your proximity, guidance, and resources to assist your shy high school student.
Help your child to help themselves.
You can’t force your child to become less shy, and even if they’re trying, the process can be very difficult. Being confident and poised in public situations is something that needs to come from within, and requires that the student themselves take responsibility for learning the necessary skills.
As a parent, you can provide your child with resources, opportunities to learn important skills, and advice from your own experiences. Your end goal should be to support your child in their own process of gaining the capability and confidence they’ll need to be a successful college student.
Teach your child to ask for help when they need it.
Everyone needs help sometimes, and there’s no shame in asking for it, but a shy child might be especially reluctant to seek out the advice or assistance that will help them achieve their goals. You can help by modeling how to ask useful questions and seek out helpful resources, and by reassuring them that seeking help and clarification is a necessary part of the learning process.
One practice that can help is to encourage your child to ask for help or advice in a very specific way, tied to a particular issue or task, rather than in a general or nonspecific way. For instance, the question “Can you help me choose whether to join the school newspaper or the drama club?” can provide a more useful answer than a general question like “I guess I should join a club, what should I do?”
Guide your child toward activities that are a good match for their interests and talents.
Sometimes, getting a child to come out of their shell is a matter of finding the right context. Activities that are particularly interesting to your child will give them the best opportunity to get personally invested, and thus the best chance to build confidence and become more comfortable interacting with others.
The same is true of activities that focus on areas where your child is already a strong performer. Your child’s inner confidence in their own abilities and achievements can really help them to become more comfortable interacting with others and presenting themselves in a positive way—something that’s a key skill for college admissions.
Encourage your child to consider activities that will explicitly develop their communication and presentation skills.
Performative extracurriculars can be scary for shy kids, but they can also be a great way to purposefully work on skills that your shy student may find especially difficult to develop.These activities could include Speech and Debate, Model UN, theater, and many others.
Activities like these will let your child develop their skills in a structured way, often with the guidance of an experienced coach or advisor and the encouragement of the rest of the group. Some activities have a competitive element, which can also help—working to win awards or honors can be a powerful motivator.
Help your child to accurately assess their own talents and skill level.
A shy or introverted child might be especially prone to understating their own achievements. Your praise and encouragement can encourage your child to appreciate their own accomplishments, speak confidently about their areas of knowledge and experience, and regard competitive goals as worth pursuing. In particular, when it’s time to apply to college, don’t let your child sell themselves short.
Of course, no one wants their child to overestimate themselves or seem arrogant. That quality can itself damage your child’s ability to successfully and pleasantly interact with others, and it can also lead to inaccurate expectations come college admissions season. Keeping the right balance is key, and your experience as a parent will help you to determine how best to keep your student on the right track.
Consider talking to a professional if your child’s shyness is significantly impacting their life.
If you’re especially worried or overwhelmed regarding your child’s shyness, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. A guidance counselor or other counseling professional’s education and experience can be very useful if shyness, social anxiety, or similar difficulties are having a significant negative impact on your child’s life.
These professionals may be able to help you better understand the roots of your child’s social difficulties, as well as possible solutions. They can suggest concrete strategies and practices that may help your child to get more comfortable with public presentations, social interactions, and similar stressful situations.
Don’ts for parents
Of course, along with all the shoulds, there are a few shouldn’ts when it comes to helping your shy high school student manage their social challenges. Here are a few things that, as a parent, you should be careful to avoid.
Don’t do too much for your child.
As a parent, it’s totally natural for you to feel the urge to swoop in and save the day when your child is struggling. However, in order for your child to grow into a more confident and capable person, you’re often going to need to resist this urge.
College life requires a lot of independence in students, and it’s better to start working on this skill early than to toss your child into an entirely new environment without preparation. In order for your child to truly “put themselves out there,” they’ll have to develop the ability to use these skills on their own.
On the flip side, don’t let your child flounder too much if they’re really having trouble.
Fostering independence is a necessity, but at the same time, as a parent, you have to maintain a reasonable balance. Teenagers are still growing and developing, and they still need their parents, even if they’d rather not admit it sometimes.
You can provide resources, support, and reinforcement of good messages without necessarily doing things for your child. You can also check in with your child to determine whether they’re getting overwhelmed, and provide them with a safe, supportive space in which to talk about stressful situations and potential solutions. It’s up to you and your child to find a balance that works for you.
Don’t be too rigid about dictating your child’s activities and goals.
Again, shy kids have a better chance to come out of their shells when they’re involved with activities in which they’re personally invested. If your child has no sense of pitch and isn’t interested in playing a musical instrument anyway, for example, there’s reason to suspect that a summer orchestra camp won’t be a great match for them, and being forced into activities they don’t enjoy can exacerbate feelings of isolation or being set apart for a shy kid.
As a parent, you likely have good reasons to suggest or require that your child take up a particular activity. However, make sure you stay flexible enough to work with your child to come up with current plans and future aspirations that make the best of what they have to offer as a unique individual. This will help them to gain the confidence they need to pursue challenging goals and discover their passions.
Don’t expect your child to become someone they’re not.
Every person’s approach to social interactions and public presentations is different, and some people just don’t have a natural aptitude or liking for these situations. Shy, introverted, and reserved people have plenty of positive and useful attributes that can make them uniquely well-suited to certain life paths—there are niches in the world for all sorts of people.
Instead of trying to eradicate shyness or introversion as an aspect of your child’s personality, focus on building specific, concrete skills that your child can use in public situations. These skills can be taught and developed through practice and dedication.
Don’t push too hard too fast.
Again, shyness isn’t something that a person can “get over” in a short period of time. It’s often a very deep-seated part of a person’s personality and a key factor in how they approach the world. The habits your child has formed as a result of shyness won’t be easily discarded.
Instead of expecting immediate changes, help your student to set specific, measurable, achievable goals and adjust them over time. Choose a goal structure that will allow them to see their progress over time, which can be great for their motivation, and use your knowledge of your child’s individual strengths and weaknesses to tailor their plan.
For more information
Shyness and introversion are common concerns for high school students and their parents, especially as college application season approaches. In these additional posts from the CollegeVine blog, you’ll find our best advice for students who are shy, introverted, or otherwise could use a little extra help navigating the social and communicative aspects of high school success.
If you’re a parent searching for additional resources that can help your child to make the most of high school and confidently approach the college admission process, look no further—the CollegeVine Student Mentorship Program is here to help.
Our mentors, all of whom have recently (and successfully!) gone through the process of applying to competitive colleges, can assist students not only with managing schoolwork and college ambitions, but also with discovering their driving interests, setting appropriate goals, and making wise decisions about their future plans.
For more information on the services we offer, visit the CollegeVine Student Mentorship website.