- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2001

If a child has a tendency to be shy, the best thing a parent can do is accept it rather than try to change the child's inherent nature, says Bernardo J. Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute in New Albany, Ind.

"There is nothing wrong with being shy as long as you understand it and take actions to control the situation and not let it control you or your child," Mr. Carducci says. "You should not try to change the child, but rather change the way a child responds to situations. We need to first love our children for who they are, not who we think they should be."

It is very important not to ask a child to do something you are not willing to do, he says. For instance, if there is a child the same age at the playground, don't tell your child to go up and approach the other child and ask to play.

"Would you go up and approach a stranger to play with you?" Mr. Carducci asks. "What you can do is encourage your child to stand by, to get used to the other kids."

That "warm-up process" is crucial in many situations, including school and parties, he says.

"If you know that, then you can really help your child," Mr. Carducci says. "If they are invited to a party, for instance, go a little early so they can have a chance to get used to the place and the people. Stay a little longer."

It also is important for shy children to have a plethora of opportunities for social interaction. Taking part in Boy Scouts or gymnastics lessons, for example, provides shy children with structured situations where they eventually might become comfortable.

Lori Ruhl, whose 7-year-old daughter, Kiersti, is very shy, has made it a point to involve her daughter in church activities, horseback-riding lessons and swimming lessons.

"This way she is around more people," says Mrs. Ruhl, of Sedro-Wolley, Wash. "At riding, she has to interact with the teachers."

Daily activities such as grocery shopping or ordering food in a restaurant can be a good demonstration for shy children, Mr. Carducci says.

"Take your child on errands with you," he says. "Let them see you being social. Explain to them what you are doing. You can even practice what might happen at a restaurant, for instance. In most situations, conversation is not random. You can tell them what to expect and how to answer."

Helping children foster friendships will go a long way, Mr. Carducci says.

"One thing we know is that social support networks are a tremendous help for the shy child," he says.

Parents should encourage children to play with other children in a comfortable environment such as their own homes. You can start this process by inviting a child to come to your home for a play date. If the child warms up to the other child, you can move their play date to another house, then eventually venture farther, such as to the park, Mr. Carducci says.

"Once they have a few good friends, shy children may warm up faster to situations if they know those friends are around," he says.

Finally, even if a parent knows the child is shy, the parent should avoid labeling the youngster.

"What happens is they start to use that as an excuse," Mr. Carducci says. "Then they won't try anymore. Also, when parents start saying, 'My child is shy,' they also start to take over for them rather than prompting their children to answer a question such as, 'How old are you?' When that happens, shy children don't get a chance to experience frustration, tolerance and to succeed on their own."

Dorothy Venditto, mother of two girls, ages 7 and 10, says it bothers her when others label her daughters as shy. She would rather describe them as quiet.

"When you are shy, people view that as an invitation to change you," says Mrs. Venditto, of Mount Kisco. N.Y. "I witness that a lot, how people label a child or a teacher will comment on it. If your child were loud and obnoxious, people wouldn't point that out to you too often."

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