Parents want to coax daughter out of shyness

Q: Our daughter is painfully shy. As a toddler, she would run behind her mom’s legs when guests visited. Even now, as a young teenager, she struggles to look people in the eye. She does well in school, but we’re still concerned. How can we help our girl overcome her fear of social interaction?

Jim: First, let’s clarify a common misconception. Author Susan Cain points out: “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.” Some introverts are shy, and many shy people are introverted. But those aren’t synonymous terms.

Shyness is usually a personality trait. It’s not that children want to feel timid around people; they just do. With some patience and encouragement, parents can help shy children develop confidence in social settings. Shy people feel most timid in unfamiliar situations. An obvious solution is to make those settings feel more predictable and routine. Create opportunities for your daughter to venture into unknown territory with you by her side. Have her order her own meal at a restaurant, for example. Or accompany her while she asks a sales associate a question. The first few times you may even coach her in what to say. But you’ll gradually be able to pull back until she’s handling the situation on her own.

Remember, too, that you’ll probably have to repeat this process for each new situation. Ordering her own meal, for example, won’t help her feel any more prepared to make phone calls or set appointments. But with each new task she conquers, her overall confidence should grow.

A shy child will likely always be shy. But handled properly, shyness can be a gift. Shy kids tend to grow up to be sensitive, caring adults, who show a high degree of compassion for others. They just need some help from you to learn how to manage their shyness well.

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Q: I’m in my late 20s. I date a lot, but have seen so many marriages break up (including my parents) that I’m not keen to go down that road myself. Why pursue a lost cause?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: One of the most insightful statements I’ve heard about marriage comes from author Maggie Gallagher: “Getting married is the boldest and most idealistic thing that most of us will ever do.”

Ms. Gallagher is right; marriage demands a lot from us. Building a successful marriage requires us to think about our spouse’s well-being more than our own. And — this will be no surprise — that kind of sacrifice doesn’t come naturally. It takes a lot of commitment to live it out every day.

One of my favorite thoughts about marriage comes from that renowned philosopher, Rocky Balboa. In the original 1976 movie, a friend asks Rocky why he would bother pursuing a relationship with Adrian, a young woman so shy she’s afraid of her own shadow. Rocky replies, as only he can, “She’s got gaps; I got gaps. Together we fill gaps!”

Rocky’s statement is simple, but profound. We have the ability to be strong where our spouse is weak. To do that, we have to be willing to step outside of ourselves and make our spouse’s needs a priority. The love we feel when we’re dating is usually all about our needs being met. I think that’s why Maggie Gallagher describes marriage as a “bold” move. Infatuation eventually wears off. When it does, we can only experience true, fulfilling love if we’re willing to serve our spouse and fill each other’s gaps. It’s bold, idealistic and very much worth it.

To help your relationships thrive, visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.