Throughout my 20-some years teaching martial arts in the Ottawa region, I would have to say the number one reason most parents enroll children into our program is to build and instill a sense of confidence within their child. I am often asked for advice on how best to manage a child who is very shy or timid. It’s really important to remember that children like adults come in all types of temperaments. Obviously some are less outgoing than their peers, but martial arts can help teach coping skills to allow children to feel more at ease in social situations and with newfound friends.
Six easy tips to help children overcome anxious feelings in social situations.
Avoid “labelling” your child as shy or allowing others to do so. When we label children as “shy” they are more likely to act and assume the role of being shy and timid. When in a social situation and your child is meeting a new adult or friend for the first time, it’s natural for them to feel a little anxious, so never say, “He’s just shy,” or allow someone else to label in your stead, “Are you being shy today?” Try to re-frame the situation giving a sense of control and empowerment to your child by saying, ‘No, they’re not shy, just not very talkative today.”
Practise social skills. Try to role play with your child, practising an initial greeting. In our martial arts class we do this on a daily basis in our ‘role call’ at the beginning of each session. We ask the children to present themselves to the instructor as if it was their first time meeting. Following the three rules of a proper greeting: eye contact, enthusiasm, and speaking clearly.
Arrive early for parties and events. This works really well and can easily alleviate a lot anxious tension for your child. It will allow them to connect with one or two children before the others arrives.
Don’t rescue. When your child refuses to answer, don’t force the situation and try not to answer for them. Just carry on with the conversation naturally and trust that your child will speak when they are ready.
No pressure. Children are extremely perceptive. If they feel that you’re pressuring them to act a certain way, it can easily escalate into a power struggle. They may not talk just to prove to you that you can’t make them talk.
Use family meetings to get outside the comfort zone. Within our martial arts classes we discuss the power of family unity, and equate it to a martial arts home team with the best life coaches in the world: our parents. We have our students practise the role of team leader during classes and encourage them to take on the role as meeting leader at home with family. Family meetings seem to be a thing of the past for most, however we strongly encourage you to use that forum to help your child take on a leadership role which offers them a chance to speak up in a familiar setting.
I believe with the proper guidance and support any child can learn to overcome shyness. Martial Arts like Karate and Jiu-Jitsu are great venues to develop the self-confidence and coping abilities for children who struggle with anxiety. Make sure to meet with instructors privately, to best address your child’s needs before enrolling him or her in a program.