Shyness, introverted, socially anxious—these are words that are too often used interchangeably when describing how some children function in the world. In true, each of these terms represents a different way of interacting with the world. It’s important to know the differences between each term if you want to begin to figure out what may be impacting your child’s social development:
· Shy – This is a highly overused term typically used to describe the behavioral inhibitions a child may exhibit in social situations or when prompted to perform in some way. I define shy as a behavior more than a condition. It refers to the initial behavioral inhibition that sometimes occurs in new and unfamiliar situations, especially when the temperament of introversion is also present. Typically, shy behavior is reinforced because the child does get to avoid whatever he or she is trying to avoid, and eventually the avoidance can become a habit. Shyness relates to how someone reacts to social and physical perceptions of threat. Since it is a behavior, it can be reshaped and changed over time.
· Introversion – This term refers to a specific type of temperament that has a biological root. It is related to how a person utilizes and renews energy. Introverted children do require warm up time when faced with new situations related to the nature of introversion, which often leads to the belief that introverted children are shy or socially anxious. This is not always true. Many introverts enjoy limited social engagement.
· Social Anxiety and Behavior Inhibition – Most socially anxious individuals engage in significant periods of behavior inhibition, especially in social situations. Motivated by perception of threats, both real and imagined, children engage in avoidance of most social situations and performance related demands. While shyness may be involved with behavior inhibition, introversion is something quite separate and distinct.
I know, defining the terms made it even more difficult. To help demonstrate the difference, I want to give a little insight into one typical social event and how each of these children – the shy child, the introvert and the socially anxious child – may respond:
Event: A child is sitting alone at lunch instead of joining a nearby group of children
What the Shy child thinks: “I really want to sit with those kids. They look nice and friendly. But, I’m too scared. What would I even say?”
What the Introvert thinks: “YES! Solitude. I am so glad no one is sitting with me so I can just relax in peace for a minute.”
What the Socially Anxious child thinks: “I don’t feel right. Seriously, I think I’m going to be sick. Oh no, those kids are looking at me. They expect me to join them. I can’t. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I may be sick. I just need to avoid them all together, keep from being totally embarrassed.”
Understanding the differences between shyness, introversion and social anxiety can help you figure out how best to help your child.
Post provided by Christine Fonseca, author of Raising the Shy Child.
--> She is a school psychologist and award-winning author of nonfiction and teen novels dedicated to helping children and adults find their unique voice in the world, including the books "Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students," "The Girl Guide," and "Quiet Kids." When she isn’t crafting new stories or working with student groups, she can be found sipping too many skinny vanilla lattes at her local coffee house.