In the United States, many people consider shyness undesirable. People with this temperament were also associated to other less desirable traits such as weak, aloof, timid and less intelligent. Due to these connotations, shy children suffer from negative social consequences. Children who were perceived as “shy” are less likely to get involve in social interactions thus, making it difficult for them to develop friendship and be in a group compare to highly active ones. These children can also be prone to bullying due to their perceived “weakness”. In extreme cases, these consequences can lead to depression or other anxiety disorders.
Shyness or inhibition to the unfamiliar is an aspect of temperament which pertains to how a child boldly or cautiously approaches unfamiliar objects and situations (Kagan, 1997). This reaction can be observed as early as 4 months and just like other temperament, was believed to be inborn and fairly stable. According to Caspi (2000), consistent signs of temperament such as shyness that was exhibited at age of 3 closely predicts personality at ages 18 and 21 thus, making it a critical aspect of child development.
Nature or Nurture?
In addressing the issue of “shyness” and its possible consequences, we must first understand its underlying influences. Let’s start with the role of “nature”. Researchers suggested that “shyness” is largely inborn and hereditary. Researchers found out that these children maybe born with unusual amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional responses. Hence, this doesn’t mean that ‘shyness’ is permanent. Despite this biological influence, inhibited reactions exhibited during childhood can still have the tendency to decrease as the child matures. This is where parenting comes into the picture – the “nurture”. But how should a parent handle a shy child? In handling a ‘shy’ child, parents commonly resort to either accepting their child’s reactions or immediately expose them to new situations to overcome their inhibitions. Between these two responses, risking the child to venture to new situation was found out to be more useful in decreasing inhibitions among 3-year old children. (Park, Belsky, & Putnam, 1997). But this exposure should be consistent and not only be limited at home. Other social environments such as school and community should also provide new opportunity for the child to explore. But despite the influence of experience in moderating earlier tendencies of shyness as well as other temperaments, parents should also bear in mind the importance of maintaining appropriate level of inhibition. According to Thomas, Chess, & Birch (1968) in their longitudinal study about temperament, the key to healthy adjustment is “Goodness of fit” which pertains to the match between the child’s response environmental demand and constraints. In an evolutionary perspective, inhibition can be a form of preventive defense by letting us assess any possible danger from the environment making it important for survival.
In conclusion, shyness, due to possible biological influences, is relatively stable but manageable. Yet, sensitive caregiving to achieve “goodness of fit” is important in order to ensure child’s optimum development.