Shy vs. Bad Manners

February 12th, 2013 posted by Elizabeth Pantley

girl hugging stuffed animals


My daughter just turned 6 years old. She has always been shy. Since she was a baby, if someone said hello to her, or fussed over her, she would frown & turn her face away. Over the past few months I have tried explaining to her that “shy” often looks like “rude.” I’ve told her that when someone says hello or offers her a compliment, she should try to respond in an appropriate manner, such as saying “hello” back or “thank you.” And I have begun to remind her on the spot to be polite & responsive. But she refuses. I’ve told her that “shy” is ok when you’re a baby and you don’t know anything about good manners, but now that she’s older she needs to practice good manners or people will think she’s rude (not shy). None of my talking has helped at all. I have not dwelled on this issue, I have just tried to get the point across gently. I don’t know what to do about this. Last week a friend of ours brought her a birthday present & she went up in her room & hid. She refused to open it here in front of them I was mortified. The friend did not make a big deal of it, but I felt terrible. Can you advise me on how I should be handling this? Thank you very much. ~Judy


Even the most vivacious, talkative child can suddenly become timid when faced with social situations around adults. Most kids will overcome this with time and practice. Some, however, are naturally more tentative with strangers and will always be more reserved in social situations. Here are some ideas to gently encourage your shy daughter to become more social:

Solution #1:

Allow your child to “practice” by involving her in unthreatening social situations, such as a small gathering of friends or family. Being comfortable in such settings comes easier with practice.

Solution #2:

Don’t force your daughter to be more socially outgoing than is comfortable for her. Teach and encourage polite manners, but don’t force more than that. Accept the fact that your child may be more reserved, and understand that all people are different, and that these differences are healthy and appropriate.

Solution #3:

Sometimes shyness is actually embarrassment. Children often don’t know what to say to adults, or if they do talk, they feel that they are saying the wrong things. It helps to rehearse appropriate responses and tell your child what kind of things to say, such as, “It’s polite to answer an adult who talks to you. When Mr. Zither commented on your haircut, you could have said, “I just had it cut yesterday.’”

Solution #4:

Don’t rescue or overprotect your child by jumping in with an answer or excuse to fill a quiet moment. Instead, let her learn through experience, even when it makes her a bit uncomfortable. Encourage and support your child when she makes an attempt to be social. A smile, a pat or a gentle squeeze can let your child know you recognize the effort and think she’s doing a good job.

Solution #5:

Don’t label your child as “shy.” This can just make matters much worse over time by painting a picture of her that she can’t change. If anyone else makes this comment, correct him or her by saying your child is sometimes “quiet, thoughtful or cautious.”

Solution #6:

Give your child a way out if she is really struggling. Teach her to quietly say to you, “P.H.” which means, “I’m having a hard time, Please Help.” Just knowing she can count on you when the going gets rough may give her the confidence to hold her own in a conversation. Hope this helps! Elizabeth

Elizabeth Pantley (57 Posts)

Elizabeth Pantley is also the president of Better Beginnings, Inc. She is a popular speaker on family issues. Elizabeth’s newsletter, Parent Tips is seen in schools nationwide. She appears as a regular radio show guest and has been quoted in Parents, Parenting, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Twins, Working Mother, and Woman’s Day magazines. You can visit her website at

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