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ASK MOM: Shy mom worries she’ll rub off on her kids

Apr 05, 2024 01:48AM ● By Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero

Drawing by Suzanne Johnson

THE PROBLEM: I’ve always been shy. I mean really shy; it’s even hard for me to order something at a fast-food restaurant. I thought it didn’t bother me until I had kids, which makes me realize how much it’s holding me back. What really concerns me is that my oldest, who is 9, is starting to mimic my behaviors. When an adult tries to talk to him, he looks down and doesn’t respond, and people think he’s got no manners. (I’ve outgrown doing that, but I know my son has seen me avoid responding in other ways.) I’m afraid my shyness is rubbing off on all my kids—even my little extrovert who is only four and used to talk to anybody who would listen! How can I keep my issues from becoming their problems?

MARY SAYS: For starters, I would encourage you to see the strengths in what you perceive as a weakness. Here’s what we often find in ‘shy’ people: a good listener, someone who thinks before they speak, and a person who’s not afraid to spend time alone—healthy traits indeed. 

But as you describe, your shyness can get in your way, so let’s start there.

Draw up a list and put the situations that cause you the most anxiety at the top. Does your shyness make it difficult to speak up in a group? Do you dread PTA meetings, or volunteering at your children’s school? 

Then talk to your children about it. Not an intense discussion about the things that scare you; rather, share with them some of the situations that make you feel nervous and ask them if they feel the same way—particularly your nine-year-old. Children this age have reached the age of reason and are open to learning how to identify a problem and tackle it.

Pick something from your top five and say something like this: “I know you have a birthday party coming up on Saturday. Sometimes when I go to an event where there will be a lot of people, I get a little nervous. How do you feel about it?”

You might find that your son's actually okay with it, which will help you figure out if you’re projecting your own feelings on him. But if he starts nodding, you’ve created a springboard for collaboratively coming up with a solution. 

Here are a few ideas:

1.     Carry a talisman in your pocket. Something small—but precious—to remind you that everything is alright.

2.     Craft a few opening lines ahead of time to start a conversation.

3.     Volunteer for an activity at the event: for you, serve at the refreshment table. For your son, he can help the host keep an eye on things by collecting wrapping paper off the floor, volunteering to referee the games, or passing plates around at cake time.

Be sure to debrief with each other afterwards! Share what worked and how you felt about it. If you tackle your shyness one bite at a time—together, you will help your son develop new patterns of behavior. 

And who knows? You might grow a little bolder, too.

ERIKA SAYS: Shy people are the most caring and empathetic people. While society can sometimes perceive shyness or introversion as a negative thing, I think it’s a gift, and you, my friend, are a gift to those around you, especially your children. 

However, if you feel like your shyness is hindering you or becoming an issue in day-to-day life, then I encourage you to seek therapy. Therapy will help you learn coping tools and learn ways to get you through the anxiety of simple tasks like ordering fast food.

Your children may be picking up on some of your behaviors, but they’re also watching you work on yourself. Showing our children how to push through adversity, work on ourselves, and grow is the best gift we can leave them with. 

Once you begin this tough work, your confidence around other people will become evident to yourself—and others. Your kiddos will see the change and grow with you. Just think, you’ll be able to model for them—rather than merely tell them—how to overcome social situations where they might feel uncomfortable.

ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! 

If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! [email protected]

Read more ASK MOM advice.


Mary Follin is the author of Teach Your Child to Read™ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective  with parents of younger children. 

Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, and mama to one amazing boy and a darling daughter.



Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.

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