Q:

My daughter is in middle school and is beginning to hate school. She is an academic superstar; however, her shyness is stopping her from feeling comfortable at school. She feels uncomfortable answering questions in class or participating in class discussions. She also is reluctant to talk to more than a few students in her classes. What can be done to help her overcome her shyness? -- Too Shy

A:

Most people have some degree of shyness. According to Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University, shyness is a mental attitude that predisposes people to be extremely concerned about the social evaluation of them by others. It involves keeping a very low profile by holding back from initiating actions that might call attention to oneself.

We recommend that you read Professor Zimbardo's book "The Shy Child: Overcoming and Preventing Shyness From Infancy to Adulthood." It has some of the best suggestions that we have seen for helping parents combat shyness in their children. These include:

  • -Do not label your child as shy. Never say: "Don't be shy."
  • -Encourage talking at home.
  • -Seek cooperation from teachers in reducing shyness in the classroom.
  • -Teach your child how to compliment their teachers and peers.
  • -Teach and display listening skills.
  • -Compliment the shy child and other family members whenever possible.
  • -Find a younger playmate for your child to help the child practice social skills and to be more assertive.

Frequently, gifted children like your daughter suffer from shyness, as they perceive themselves as different from others. Enrolling her in a gifted program this summer could be helpful. Learning new physical skills also could contribute to building her self-esteem.