Teacher Tips Encouraging Shy Children to Communicate in Class

Almost every teacher has shy children in the classroom. Encouraging them to communicate effectively can make a huge difference in their schoolwork, as well as in their lives. Learning to distinguishing children who are shy from those who are quiet, tired, ill, or whose who have other health related problems is important. Is there a language barrier or are there problems at home? Maybe the parents are shy by nature, too.  

What does it mean to be shy, as a child?

A basic understanding of shyness from a child’s perspective is vital for teachers who want to encourage shy children to communicate effectively in the classroom, as well as elsewhere. 

Consider the following tips for teachers with respect to ways to encourage shy children to communicate.   

Learn to recognize typical patterns of behavior in shy children:

From a child’s perspective, being shy can be painful, as well as emotionally frustrating and embarrassing. For example, “Please don’t talk to me,” a shy, young girl pleads with her teacher, silently. “I may die of embarrassment if you ask me questions that I have to answer in front of the whole class.”

“In talking, shyness and timidity distort the very meaning of my words. I don’t pretend to know anybody well. People are like shadows to me and I am like a shadow.” Gwen John

Another example is that of a younger, shy child who asks himself, “Where can I hide?” He panics, when anyone walks into the classroom. He looks around for a place to hide. Unable to find one, he covers his eyes with his hands, so that the person cannot see him. Another shy child cries, screams or has a temper tantrum, when startled by someone. Seeing the world through the eyes of a shy child can be frightening at times. 

Develop an understanding of shyness, as it pertains to children:

A shy child may be overly timid in nature, sometimes uncomfortably so. Shy children generally tend to pull away from close or personal contact with others, sometimes, even those they know and recognize. A shy child backs off immediately, when approached by anyone. He or she may act distrustful or run away to avoid strangers. The shy child may not know or understand how to relate to or communicate with others. Effective communication is a new, learning experience for many shy children.   

Create a classroom environment where a shy child feels safe:

Part of the role of a teacher who has shy children in the classroom is to create an effective and appropriate learning environment. That means one that is secure, comfortable and a safe place where any child, particularly a shy child, can learn. A shy child should never feel threatened or uncomfortable in any classroom, other outdoor settings or field trips. If a teacher senses a shy child feels frightened or threatened, making direct contact with that child may take time, but also prove effective. A teacher holding the hand of a shy child, when on an outing, can give a sense of security. It may take parental involvement to gain the child’s trust.

Reward active participation and communication of shy children:

When a shy child does venture ‘out on a limb’, so to speak, and actively engages in appropriate behavior and communication with others in the classroom, or other class environments, his or her activity should be acknowledged and rewarded in some way, so that the child comprehends it in a positive light. At times, the steps taken by a shy child may only be minor in nature, but even minor indications of participation can serve as an initial ‘stepping stone’ towards more active participation. At times, a peer buddy system works well for shy children, as it gives them a sense of security.

Teachers usually grow to love shy children, as they often seek to please their teachers, especially those who understand them and give them extra encouragement. They often outgrow their shyness, but some live with it the rest of their lives. Regardless, they will love and remember their teachers, particularly those who demonstrated loving care, compassion and kindness to them.