How to Help a Shy Child Excel in High School

As a parent, you know your child better than almost anyone, and it will be clear to you by the time high school rolls around if you have a child who’s particularly shy. Those high school students who are the most extroverted and confident may sometimes get more attention and praise for their accomplishments than those who are quieter, which may raise concerns for you as a parent.

A particular worry for many parents of shy kids is that shyness and its effects on a student’s academic and extracurricular careers will become a liability when it comes to college admissions. Shy high school students certainly face some special challenges, but these are far from insurmountable. As a parent, there’s a lot you can do to help, support, and guide your child as they work on gaining confidence, coming out of their shell, and putting themselves out there.

The Importance of Addressing Shyness

It’s not uncommon for high school students to be shy. Many young people struggle with skills like speaking up in a group or performing in public. Of course, this extends to adults as well — think about how many people profess to have a fear of public speaking.

Being shy, as a personal quality, isn’t in itself a deal breaker when it comes to your child’s ability to achieve their goals. In itself, the word “shy” can cover a broad range of feelings and behaviors. Some people are quieter, more introverted, less social, or less interested in certain social settings than others, simply as a matter of human variation, and these aren’t intrinsically negative qualities.

When shyness becomes a problem is when it gets in the way of the things a student needs to do to present themselves well, interact with important people, and otherwise progress towards their goals. If your child’s shyness is causing distress or concern in this way, it’s worthwhile to put some conscious work into addressing this problem.

For the college admissions process in particular, it’s essential that your child be able to “sell themselves” to the colleges in which they’re interested. Active self-promotion is necessary if admissions officers are to be able to see the full range of a student’s good qualities. They can’t take into account what your child doesn’t tell them.  

Below, we’ll go over a number of general dos and don’ts for you to consider as you dive into the project of helping your child manage their shyness. Every child is different, of course, and you absolutely should use your special insight into your child’s mindset and motivations to tailor your support to their needs. However, there are a number of general things that a parent can do (and not do) to try and help a shy teenager succeed.

Dos for Parents

Help Your Child To Help Themselves.

You can’t force your child to become less shy, and even if they’re trying, the process can be very difficult. Being confident and poised in public situations is something that needs to come from within, and requires that the student themselves take responsibility for learning the necessary skills.

As a parent, you can provide your child with resources, opportunities to learn important skills, and advice from your own experiences. Your end goal should be to support your child in their own process of gaining the capability and confidence they’ll need to be a successful college student.

Guide Your Child Toward Activities That Are A Good Match For Their Interests And Talents.

Sometimes, getting a child to come out of their shell is a matter of finding the right context. Activities that are particularly interesting to your child will give them the best opportunity to get personally invested, and thus the best chance to build confidence and become more comfortable interacting with others.

The same is true of activities that focus on areas where your child is already a strong performer. Your child’s inner confidence in their own abilities and achievements can really help them to become more comfortable interacting with others and presenting themselves in a positive way — something that’s a key skill for college admissions.

Encourage Your Child To Consider Activities That Will Explicitly Develop Their Communication And Presentation Skills.

Performative extracurriculars can be scary for shy kids, but they can also be a great way to purposefully work on skills that your shy student may find especially difficult to develop. These activities could include Speech and Debate, Model UN, theater, and many others.

Activities like these will let your child develop their skills in a structured way, often with the guidance of an experienced coach or advisor and the encouragement of the rest of the group. Some activities have a competitive element, which can also help — working to win awards or honors can be a powerful motivator.

Help Your Child To Accurately Assess Their Own Talents And Skill Level

A shy or introverted child might be especially prone to understating their own achievements. Your praise and encouragement can encourage your child to appreciate their own accomplishments, speak confidently about their areas of knowledge and experience, and regard competitive goals as worth pursuing. In particular, when it’s time to apply to college, don’t let your child sell themselves short.

Of course, no one wants their child to overestimate themselves or seem arrogant. That quality can itself damage your child’s ability to successfully and pleasantly interact with others, and it can also lead to inaccurate expectations come college admissions season. Keeping the right balance is key, and your experience as a parent will help you to determine how best to keep your student on the right track.

Consider Talking To A Professional If Your Child’s Shyness Is Significantly Impacting Their Life

If you’re especially worried or overwhelmed regarding your child’s shyness, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. A guidance counselor or other counseling professional’s education and experience can be very useful if shyness, social anxiety, or similar difficulties are having a significantly negative impact on your child’s life.

These professionals may be able to help you better understand the roots of your child’s social difficulties, as well as possible solutions. They can suggest concrete strategies and practices that may help your child to get more comfortable with public presentations, social interactions, and similar stressful situations.

Don’ts for parents

Don’t Do Too Much For Your Child

As a parent, it’s totally natural for you to feel the urge to swoop in and save the day when your child is struggling. However, in order for your child to grow into a more confident and capable person, you’re often going to need to resist this urge.

College life requires a lot of independence in students, and it’s better to start working on this skill early than to toss your child into an entirely new environment without preparation. In order for your child to truly “put themselves out there,” they’ll have to develop the ability to use these skills on their own.

On The Flip Side, Don’t Let Your Child Flounder Too Much If They’re Really Having Trouble

Fostering independence is a necessity, but at the same time, as a parent, you have to maintain a reasonable balance. Teenagers are still growing and developing, and they still need their parents, even if they’d rather not admit it sometimes.

You can provide resources, support, and reinforcement of good messages without necessarily doing things for your child. You can also check in with your child to determine whether they’re getting overwhelmed, and provide them with a safe, supportive space in which to talk about stressful situations and potential solutions. It’s up to you and your child to find a balance that works for you.

Don’t Expect Your Child To Become Someone They’re Not

Every person’s approach to social interactions and public presentations is different, and some people just don’t have a natural aptitude or liking for these situations. Shy, introverted, and reserved people have plenty of positive and useful attributes that can make them uniquely well-suited to certain life paths — there are niches in the world for all sorts of people.

Instead of trying to eradicate shyness or introversion as an aspect of your child’s personality, focus on building specific, concrete skills that your child can use in public situations. These skills can be taught and developed through practice and dedication.

For More Information

Shyness and introversion are common concerns for high school students and their parents, especially as college application season approaches. We have a parenting topic on our blog. Head on over to read that here