Overprotection and shyness. What makes a child shy? PART II

In another article, we talked about how both temperament and the environment play a role in the development of shyness, and how parenting styles and attachment are key aspects that influence this characteristic. So, how does this look through time?

0-24 months

You can find the origins of shyness at the earliest stages of life, in the temperamental reactivity a baby girl has and the sensitivity and responsiveness of the parents that care for her. Imagine an infant that has very strong negative emotional reactions; caring for her can be very demanding and her parents might have a hard time being sensitive and providing appropriate support. In turn, this makes it more difficult for her to establish a secure attachment. Instead, this baby girl is more likely to develop an ambivalent attachment style, which would make her scared of rejection and failure, thus, unable to cope with social situations and challenges. Even more, research has found that ambivalently attached toddlers have higher chances of being withdrawn and insecure later on when they start going to preschool.

Besides attachment, psychological control is also an important aspect for shyness development. There can be two different patterns which display an over-protective behavior. One would be a very intrusive and unnecessary micromanagement of the child’s activities. This kind of interaction gives the child the idea that she is not capable of doing anything without her parents’ help and negates her the opportunity to practice coping skills during challenging situations (appropriate for her developmental stage). The other pattern of over-protective behavior involves criticizing and mocking, which can also threaten the child’s confidence and feeling of self-worth. So, whether it is extremely affectionate or negative, over-controlling behaviors towards a withdrawn child will make her more prone to maintain a shy and reserved behavior later in her life.

What to do at this stage? Pay attention to your baby’s cues and respond to them; being sensitive to your little one’s needs can help her feel secure and confident later on. Spend quality time with your baby, doing age-appropriate activities. Be warm, praise her, show positive affect towards her to reduce her chance of anxiety in the future, and help her have a strong background for later social competence.

What’s important at this stage? Find a balance between being supportive and caring (so that your baby feels secure), but avoid having an over-protective or controlling behavior (so that your baby feels capable of doing things herself).

2-5 years

Yes, those early moments are essential for your baby’s social development, however, that doesn’t mean that her social tendencies are not malleable after the 24 months mark. Parents keep playing an important role during the preschool years. Research has shown that shyer kids have more over-protective and less sensitive parents who fail to encourage their autonomy. But how do you know if you’re being supportive or over-protective? There’s a fine line that divide these two. Parents are supposed to be greatly involved and caring all the time, right? Well, it’s all a matter of context and what the situation calls for. An interesting study examined mothers’ behavior with their children in two different contexts. It was found that when mothers are more caring and apprehensive during their child’s free play (a context where children can experiment without needing so much help), their children were also more restrained when playing with pears, suggesting that playing with peers becomes more of a threat than a fun social engagement for them. On the other hand, when mothers acted in this way during difficult tasks (a context where children were challenged and could become upset), their children were less reserved.

We have to keep in mind that your child’s own self-regulation abilities and emotional arousal will play a role in how much your parental behaviors will influence her. In one hand, children who respond calmly to challenging situations (who have good self-regulation) cope better, even if socialization from parents is not on point. On the other, children who depend more on external sources of support (who have poor self-regulation) need more caring and compassionate parenting to be able to cope with situations and are more vulnerable to the negative effects that a controlling parent can have over them; thus, they have a greater risk of being shy and inhibited.

What to do at this stage? Get to know your daughter and her personality, notice when she needs more support or when she can manage on her own. Take into account the context and difficulty of the task at hand before deciding that your child needs help.

What’s important during this stage? Know the situation’s demands and your little one’s needs to decide which parental response will be more effective and which would, on the contrary, be unfavorable for your girl’s proficient social development.

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10 thoughts on “Overprotection and shyness. What makes a child shy? PART II

  • Pingback: What makes a child shy? PART I | Kinedu Blog

  • By Nargiza - Reply

    What is meant by ambivalent attachment style mentioned in the first paragraph?

    • By Kinedu - Reply

      Hi Nargiza! Ambivalent attachment can develop when the parental responses are inconsistent (sometimes the parent responds but not others or sometimes the response is warm but other times its very cold), this can cause anxiety for the child, as he or she is uncertain about the type of response he or she might get.

  • By Marina - Reply

    I have three children, one of whom is very shy. According to this article, I was just not a good enough parent to the very shy one. What is the point of saying that? She has a different temperament. We work with her, but her successes are not ours and neither are her challenges. To imply otherwise is ridiculous and demeaning. Your role should be to encourage and educate parents, not to blame them for their children’s struggles.

    • By Kinedu - Reply

      Hi Marina! Thank you for your comment. We are very sorry, that’s not at all what we want to portray with the article! Of course some children will be more shy than others, and that’s totally ok! Sometimes a child can be inherently reserved and it can take a little longer for him to warm up to new situations, places, and people. What’s important is that he’s not emotionally distressed, to the point that his shyness becomes disabling and doesn’t allow him to adapt. This article just talks about some factors that research has found could make a withdrawn child even more prone to maintain a shy and reserved behavior later in life. Every child is different and develops in his own way – you have been experiencing this first-hand! What’s most important is that we spend quality time with them and that we are responsive to their interactions, showing them that we support and love them very much <3

  • By Anonymous - Reply

    Why is this article gender-specific for girls? Can’t boys be shy, too?

    • By Kinedu - Reply

      Hi there! Of course the article applies to both girls and boys. The gender an article is written for is chosen at random and it varies across all of our articles.

  • By Anna Hatch - Reply

    Hello, this article was really interesting, it sounds like children who are confident are on the right track, however I was wondering if young children can be too confident and too forward? My daughter is 13 months and physically advanced, she also is very confident, calm and happy in new situations and around strangers: with eye contact, smiles, talking, and approaching new people for hugs. This may be because we have traveled a lot and she has a large extended family across the planet. This all seems great… though stranger danger has not been very evident (only rarely). What I’m worried mostly about is that I spent some time with a friend’s children (2-5 yrs old) who were confident to the point of a actual bullying and overpowering and negative behaviors… Is there research that indicates confidence in infants can lead to bullying in the following years? We do our best to encourage consideration of others and discouraging gestures that could hurt others. Unfortunately I have no idea of knowing wether certain actions are normal for an infant learning about herself and the world or a sign of an issue in the future. She can scare other children older than herself when she runs right up to them and hugs them, and I have noticed her grabbing at people’s faces. Would love more information if possible (such as links to relevant articles or advice 😊) thank you.

  • By Oksana - Reply

    Great article! Thank you so much for sharing!!

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