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The question

My kid is painfully shy. How do I get him out of his shell?

The answer

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We must consider whether his behavior is situational or consistently shy in all circumstances. Situational shyness would be less concerning.

Most experts suggest that the term "shy" should not be used as a label. It simply describes a personality trait that is normal in most cases. Some even suggest that it may make matters worse to remind the child he is shy. It puts more pressure on the child.

Encouragement and support are the ways to deal with this.

For example, do not put the child in situations where he feels under pressure. When he is slow to make friends, don't criticize him or "push" him to become friendlier.

Some children are initially reserved. They are soft-spoken and value their privacy. They have absolutely no lack of confidence – it is just their nature to not rush enthusiastically into situations.

They often are good listeners and very compassionate. They may be deep thinkers. They tend to set high standards for themselves. They make good eye contact when one engages them, even though they may be soft-spoken.

Watch your own behavior in the presence of a reserved child. When someone talks to him, allow him time to answer – as opposed to impatiently doing all the talking for him.

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William Sears, a well-known author and pediatrician, feels very strongly that the term "shy" should be avoided. He prefers terms such as "comfortable," "focused," "reserved" and "private." On his website he talks about how his wife is reserved and how they corrected their child's teacher who told them she was concerned their son was shy.

The majority of these youngsters need support, encouragement and space. Over time they may become more outgoing – especially when they express their talents with a quiet confidence.

A great book on this topic is Let's Talk about Being Shy (by Marianne Johnson).

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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