How do you teach kids to come out of their shell?

She says:Helping kids come out of their shell

At the bookstore the other day, my daughter Grace, who is 17, was looking for a newly-released book. After scouring the shelves herself to see if it was there yet, I suggested she ask the nice lady working in the department for some help. At first, she said “no, I’ll just keep looking.” After this went on a while, I encouraged her again to ask. With great trepidation, this girl of mine, who will go off to college next year, walked slowly, ever so slowly, to the lady to ask her question. The woman was very nice, helped her in a split second and it was over.

It was disheartening for me to see my daughter still so shy after all these years. When my kids were little, I encouraged them to talk to strangers within safe confines, i.e., tell the waitress what they want at a restaurant, go up to the sales clerk to ask where the restrooms were, hand the Salvation Army bell ringer some money and say “Happy Holidays.” I encouraged interaction and let the niceness of others be the reward for putting themselves out there.

As my children get closer and closer to being out there in the world, their reluctance to talk to people has continued. I realize it stems from insecurity and shyness. But I am worried for them. I consider myself a shy person but I have forced myself to talk to others, strike up conversations and reach out. And the rewards have been wonderful. I’ve had lovely conversations, shared laughs, learned new things and just generally connected with other human beings in a safe, simple, nice way. I call them my “slice of life” moments and I’ve made sure my kids were witness to many of them so they could see how nicely it can all go. I want my children to have plenty of those moments because to not do so leaves a person too withdrawn, insular and…alone.

I can’t change their personalities and make them less shy (although I did do that for myself). All I can do is continue to encourage, occasionally point out how nicely their interaction went and hope they’ll choose communing with others like I did. In the business world, they say it’s all about contacts. I’d broaden that to say, in life, it’s all about connections, even for (especially for) those of us who are painfully shy.

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