This story is going to shine some light on an important problem: “Being the shy kid in the classroom.” The problems with shy kids and our school system. I am going to permit myself to use this blog to share my own personal story. Schools can be a challenge for almost every kid. It is an even bigger challenge for kids that suffer with social anxiety. Our school systems tend to forget about these kids. They tend to see them as lazy and unmotivated. They ignore the struggles that go along with social anxiety. You are dealing with a really fragile kid who needs more attention. Attention they will not receive. At least, not in a positive way.
Disclaimer: This is a slight exaggeration and generalization of the topic in an attempt to grab the attention of the reader. Of course, there are schools that are doing a marvelous job at guiding shy people. Props to them!
Time for my personal story:
I was a very shy kid. When I was in elementary school, I had one good friend. I am so grateful for that because this friendship was an opportunity to develop my poor social skills. Other moments, my social skills were very limited and my anxiety levels were continuously running high.
I still remember that I used to write in my diary how much I struggled to give a book presentation. I would compare the process of giving a presentation to the act of climbing Mount Everest. The closer I came to the presentation, the steeper the hill of resistance became. When I finally finished the presentation, I would reach the top of the mountain and could look down at my achievements. Nevertheless, I never saw this as an achievement. I was always very angry at myself because I could not be like everybody else.
Then, I entered high school. An emotionally cold place where I did not have any companions. Packed with the social skills of a dead creature, I was right on my way to live a life without a friends and to get bullied. Luckily, I never really got bullied even though I was fighting a losing battle. I could not talk to people with a higher social status and I was not gifted enough to join a group conversation with a sense of humor. Never did I answer a question asked by the teacher. I was too scared to give the wrong answer and to be publicly humiliated. In reality, this never really happened but the atrocious thought of failing alone was debilitating to me.
The mental struggle
There is a constant mental fight in the head of a shy kid. You should imagine a strong version that likes to be seen and wants to share his or hers words. On the contrary there is also the scared part that overpowers the other version and always projects the worst case scenario.
At this point personally, I still am a quite shy and timid person. I still suffer from social anxiety. I try to work on it through exposure therapy. The best kind of therapy you can have when you are dealing with anxieties.
This post does not only have to be about me. I just wanted to add this personal story to make this message even stronger.
Message to the teachers
Shy kids deserve a different kind of treatment. They are not underdeveloped, lazy, or unmotivated. A lot of times, they are really fragile kids who need a bit more attention and mental support. I know it is a lot easier to give a lot of attention to the loud kids even though shy kids have an opinion that is just as strong.
The ones that are speaking the most, will be heard and forgotten. The ones that are thinking and executing, will be eventually listened to.
Here are my personal suggestions on how you can approach shy kids and how you can give them a strong foundation for rest of their lives. They will need this foundation in order to reach their full potential. Their intelligence and hard work ethics should not go unnoticed. Each person should fully flourish as an individual. Only when you realize a “one size fits all” approach in school does not work, you will be able to reach everybody. How controversial is that?
Work with their interests
Explore the interests of the “shy” kid. Most likely he will have an interest area where he will find it a lot easier to break his own mental barriers. Positive mental energy will cut through the anxiety.
Give them more tasks
Give them paradoxically more presentations and more public tasks. This will help them grow in the long term. Just make sure to support them in the process. Give them the right tools to deal with the insecurities that go along. Support them emotionally and be the mentor and guide they need.
Search together with them which sport they really like. Let them engage in group sport. They will learn how to work in a team. They will learn how to delegate tasks. At the same time, they will condition positive emotions with being in group.
Do not let bad feelings go unnoticed. Explore why the kid is so silent. Talk with the kid about his/her feelings. Make sure that they feel comfortable talking about their emotions. Remember that these are fragile kids. They need to properly manage their emotions by talking about them or writing them down. If the kid makes this a habit early in life, then it will help him with future mental struggles.
They should be able to work on their self confidence and self-belief. Let them solve puzzles that match their competence level so they start to believe in their capacities. Let them write down positive affirmations. Make them lead a team and give them the label, “leader of the team”. Let them write down who they are and what they want to be in a couple of years. Let this be a guide that they are capable of becoming this better version of themselves. These are all little tricks to make them think more positive about themselves. All alone they are enough but all together they are more than enough and can make a huge difference.
Lastly, teach them to be autonomous and to think for themselves. They need to be able to claim their space on this planet. Otherwise, other people will do this for them.
No grading system
Get rid of the grading system and the competitive environment in school. Comparing with others will never help a person and will inhibit him to be fully in sync with his own strengths and weaknesses. Children or even adults should only be comparing themselves with the person they were yesterday and who they want to be tomorrow.
This are my own emotionally loaded suggestions. Please add some more in the comment section. Also, feel free to correct me if I made some irrational suggestions in the midst of my personal rant.