A student who knows the answer but avoids the teacher's gaze, a tween who opts to stay home and read instead of going on an overnight trip with a church group, a preschooler who heads to his room just part way through a play date -- behaviors such as these might be due to shyness. But shyness and introversion are often confused. Some characteristics of children who are introverts appear very similar to children who are shy. Introversion and extroversion have to do with how a person replenishes energy, while shyness is a behavior trait resulting from fear.
Shyness can afflict any child whether he is an introvert or extrovert. Shyness is defined by the behavior a child exhibits in social situations when he fears judgment or criticism. Shy children hold back due to their insecurities and inhibitions rather than due to a lack of interest in the social activity or a need for some quiet time. Shyness is a behavior expressed in the presence of others while sociability refers to the motive. In other words, a child can be shy in public while still possessing the desire to be socially involved that stems from his extroversion, explains Louis Schmidt, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory at McMaster University.
Shy and Introverted
Introverts need quiet time to reflect on their thoughts and feelings. This is their primary means of replenishing energy. The introverted child who is emotionally drained after a day of intense social interaction needs time alone to recharge his batteries. And while he may enjoy the company of others, he typically prefers one or two close friends to a wide circle of acquaintances. Introverted children often enjoy solitary activities, such as reading, art, music, and for long periods of time. Although they are not hermits, introverted children may seem aloof and be misunderstood by those around them.
Children who are both shy and introverted can be filled with apprehension and fear of criticism or judgment while, depending on their level of energy at the time, may also be feeling overwhelmed from the day's social interactions. You can help your shy introvert by providing activities short in duration and with only one or two children or a small group. If the activity is a long one, provide breaks and let him have alone time to charge up before going. Whenever possible, allow him to become involved at his own pace.
Shy and Extroverted
Extroverts gain their energy from the outside world and enjoy being in the thick of things. These kids thrive in social gatherings and may express frustration and boredom when they are expected to play alone. Where the introverted child needs quiet space to rejuvenate, the extroverted child finds social interaction invigorating. These children are very active socially and enjoy a wide range of friends. They may find quiet and alone time stifling.
Shy children who are extroverts want to be in the middle of things and need social stimulation, but they lack the courage or confidence to become involved. These are the children who may be slow to warm up or who can be eased into a situation with encouragement from parents or peers. Parents can help shy extroverts by explaining what to expect or teaching new skills before the activity. Parents can also help by building the child's confidence so that he isn't so afraid of criticism or judgment. This may give your little one the self confidence he needs to let his natural extroversion shine.
Shy or Introverted
Figuring out whether your shy child is introverted or extroverted may be difficult at times. According to Schmidt, introverted children, just as introverted adults, do not seek out interaction, but they also do not avoid it. Shy children, however, avoid social situations due to fear or anxiety. He further notes that an introvert can act like an extrovert if he chooses, but a shy child cannot turn off his shyness. Uncovering your child's motivation is key to understanding whether she is a shy extrovert or an introvert.