Parenting Shy Kids with Fixed or Growth Mindset?
Published 02 December 2019 at 21:21
“I am fine when I am with someone I know. I can chat away for hours together on any subject that comes up. When it comes to talking to someone I don’t know, that’s when I am tongue-tied. It is worse when I am in a group setting. It’s like a cat runs away with my tongue! I lose all my speaking and connecting abilities. Almost like someone has put a spell on me.”
A sentiment I come across with so many teen clients of mine. And each one of them is talented and confident in their way.
Anyone who has ever felt shy in a situation or has been a shy person, knows very well what goes on in the mind, body, and intellect of the person. The mind is full of anxiety. The body is tense with heart racing faster than the fastest Formula 1 car. Intellect, the reasoning centre, tells you, everyone out there is there to judge you and to laugh at you. Scientifically, the brain goes into a “fight or flight” mode. Our mind has been designed to keep the body safe. When it perceives threat or danger to the body, it kicks itself into action releasing hormones that would increase heart rate and blood supply to the muscles. Fear of speaking in front of others is a great example of a perceived threat by the modern mind. In the case of shy people, this “flight” manifests itself as a tongue-tied, frozen individual. An individual, whose intellect has all the answers, but the body has decided to go on a “non-cooperation movement. The problem is the world does not understand the inner workings of shy people. They think the person does not want to make even eye contact, leave alone making a conversation. They end up getting labelled as arrogant and ill-mannered. Of course, it’s the parents who bear the brunt of the child’s behaviour.
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A few years back, at a New Year Eve’s Party, the group started playing Dumb Charades – Kids vs Adults. While all the kids participated, one kid clearly said, “I don’t want to do it.” The parents of the child kept coaxing him until the child had a terrible meltdown and the family had to excuse themselves from the party.
The question I pose to you all is, “Was it a wise thing to do with 20 pairs of eyes staring at him?” I am not suggesting that the child should not be taught the right skills, my point is that we parents should do it at the right time and the right place. Even the strongest of adults would crumble if he or she is put on the spot in a gathering against their wishes and this is a child we are talking about. Communication and Interpersonal Skills are life skills. To some, it comes naturally and some need to be taught. Most of the time, shy kids, have the will but lack the requisite skills and knowledge to carry out a conversation.
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A few years back, I was traveling with my niece in an overcrowded bus. A lady gave her a place to sit and asked gently, “Where are you going?”. My niece did not answer that lady. When we got off the bus, the first thing my sister did was to scold my niece for not answering the kind lady’s question. Later when I asked her, “Why didn’t you answer?” She said, “I was not sure of the question. Did she mean which place we would get off or whose house we were going to?” When you see your child is tongue-tied in some situation, you can come to their aide by giving them cues subtly on what is expected of them. Like in this case, my sister could have come to her child’s assistance by asking her “Do you remember the place we have to get off at?” or “Do you know whose house we are visiting?”
Social gatherings can be daunting for shy kids. They have just no idea what to do. When we go to large social gatherings, it is a good idea to prepare them on what they can expect there – like, "What is the occasion?", "Who are the people they might meet? and ,"What are some of the basic questions they could be asked?" and how they can handle those.
It falls upon parents of shy kids to teach them the requisite skills. But before they teach them, they need to look at their child’s personality from a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Carol Dweck, in her book Mindsets talks about shyness and how mindsets matter. She mentions a study by Jennifer Beer that assessed the effects of the mindset of shy people on social interactions. Observers found that although both fixed and growth mindset people looked very nervous first few minutes of the interaction, the ones with a growth mindset, showed greater social skills, were more likeable and created enjoyable interaction. The reason was, while people with a fixed mindset were afraid of making mistakes, the ones with the growth mindset took it as a challenge. If children are encouraged to look at social situations with a growth mindset, they will take every social situation as an interesting challenge instead of labelling themselves as socially challenged.
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Consider a situation where your child answers their grandparents in monosyllables. Typically, we parents end up lecturing them on their bad behaviour with grandparents. Now, look at the same situation from another angle. What if instead of scolding or lecturing them, ask them, “What might you be interested in knowing about your grandparents? Wouldn’t you want to like to find out how their school was different from yours? What work they did before they retire?” The whole dynamic changes. Instead of looking at the situation as their shortcoming, they look at it from a point of view of listening to a story of another era. Which one would you want for your child?
The same principle can be used in teaching them to be more people-friendly when you are not around to help him out. There is no "copy and paste" solution for this. A client of mine with whom I was working to help her child out of her shell, the following strategy helped. Each night at the dinner table, she and her husband made it a point to share a story each about their struggles with talking to people at work, during a commute, at markets. With that, they would also talk about how they overcame their struggle, what solution they found. After a few weeks, before giving their solutions, they would ask their daughter, what would be the best thing to do here. This provided an opportunity for the child to understand how to handle such situations and apply them in her own life.
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Most people find outgoing, robust, extroverted personalities enviable. An introverted personality type also comes with many qualities – innovation, creativity, and sensitivity – that have led people to make great contributions to society. Famous introverts include Albert Einstein, J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss and interestingly, Richard Branson.
As parents, we have to move ourselves from feeling embarrassed about the child’s personality to understanding that they need support in developing communication and interpersonal skills. It is important for our children to feel safe and happy in social situations. With patience and the right mindset, we can ingrain these life-long skills in your child.
By Shalini Bindal
About the Author:
Shalini Bindal is a Professional Coach certified by International Coaching Federation (ICF). She brings about change in behaviour and habits through personal and group coaching sessions (in person or online). She focuses her coaching efforts on Parents, Youth and Women. Before becoming a Coach, she was a HR professional and Corporate Facilitator. A mother of two teenagers, Shalini has lived in India, Belgium and now in Hong Kong. Email her for a 30-minute free face-to-face or virtual session firstname.lastname@example.org