Why We Shouldn’t Call Kids “Shy”

Most of us were raised to believe that being “shy” was an undesirable personality trait. Dr. Hilary Mandzik shares why we shouldn’t call Kids “shy” (& why “shy” behaviors are actually a GOOD thing!)

By Dr. Hilary Mandzik, PsyD

Parenting Worries

I’ll never forget being a first-time mom and heading to Target with my then-toddler.


As soon as we’d get to the checkout, my usually bubbly and talkative 2-year-old would completely shift his demeanor. The kind clerk would say hello to him, and he’d bury his head in my shoulder … or worse, stare at her in complete silence.


I remember being really embarrassed. “Oh gosh, I don’t know what’s gotten into him –” I would say, apologetically. “He’s SO talkative at home!”


And then I would go down what I now call the “parenting rabbit hole” – a never-ending abyss of parenting worries that would consume me:

  • Why was my child suddenly so “shy”?
  • What was wrong with him?
  • Would he grow up to struggle in social situations?
  • Would people think he was rude?
  • What if no one ever got to know the sweet boy I knew so well?


Maybe you can relate?


(Oh wait! Have we met? I’m Dr. Hilary Mandzik, a licensed psychologist, parenting specialist, host of the parenting podcast Raised Resilient with Dr. Hilary, and – perhaps most importantly! – a mama of 3. I’m in the parenting trenches alongside you; I know exactly how hard parenting is. I also know from experience that parenting can feel lighter – and towards that end, I offer courses & group programs to empower you to parent with confidence, even when things get chaotic. I’m so glad you landed on this article, friend!)

let’s stop calling our kids shy – and instead, let’s celebrate with them the moments they choose to trust themselves and act accordingly!

The Truth About Shyness

If you can relate to the story I shared above, you’re not alone.


Most of us were raised to believe that being “shy” was an undesirable personality trait. Some of us might have even been labeled as “shy” … and maybe we even took that on, believing that we were somehow less skilled socially.


But here’s the truth:

Being “shy” is NOT a personality trait. We ALL feel hesitant from time to time in new social situations, and acting on that internal feeling of hesitation and caution does NOT make us wrong or bad. It actually means that we are trusting ourselves enough to do what feels right internally, even if it goes against the grain or isn’t what everyone expects us to do.


Our children especially will sometimes hesitate, resist participation, or stay close to us – their safe caregivers – in new or unknown situations.


And that makes so much sense! Our kids’ brains are literally wired to seek protection in their safe attachment figures (that’s YOU!) when things feel uncertain or unknown.


When your child seeks that protection – by, say, burying their head in your shoulder when a stranger says hi, or sitting on the bench next to you instead of playing on the playground, or staying close to you at a party instead of running off with the other kids – they’re actually listening to their body’s internal cues, which is exactly what we want them to do.


Kids who are good at noticing and listening to their body’s internal cues are more likely to stop eating when they’re full, choose friends who are kind and respectful, and – down the road – refuse to get in the car with a drunk driver, even if they risk offending someone or looking “uncool.”

Shift Your Perspective

So when your child refuses to say hi to someone they just met or stays close to you on the playground, they’re not acting meek and “shy” – they’re actually acting confident. They’re tuning into their body and listening to what it’s telling them, even if that goes against the status quo or the expectations placed upon them.


But our whole lives, we’re taught to see these behaviors as negative – so we go down that same “parenting rabbit hole” that I did as a first-time mama, and we worry that there’s something wrong with our child.


And so we might say to our partner that night over dinner: “James was so SHY today at Target! I don’t know what got into him! He completely ignored the clerk, and I was mortified”!


We might even say to our child: “Why were you being so shy?”


Our kids hear this and internalize the idea that something about their behavior – or worse who they are – is wrong or bad or not enough, and that can lead to low self-esteem and a negative (and inaccurate!) self-concept over time.


So let’s stop calling our kids shy – and instead, let’s celebrate with them the moments they choose to trust themselves and act accordingly!


For example, when my second child started preschool, the teachers shared at our conference that he had chosen to sit next to them on the bench for the first six weeks of school instead of playing with the other kids. “And then one day,” they told me, “he just got up and went to go play and never looked back!”


By this point in my parenting journey, I’d shifted my perspective and understood what his behavior really meant – and I was so excited to know that my child had felt safe and secure enough in himself (even at a new school!) to follow his own internal cues instead of just going along with everyone else when that didn’t feel right to him. So I told him, “You waited to go play until you knew when you were ready! That’s so cool!”


Similarly, when your child stays close to you instead of playing with the other kids at a party, you might tell your child: “You’re listening to your body. You’ll know when you feel ready to go play!”


Or when your child – like my toddler – won’t greet the clerk at Target, you can smile and model the social behaviors you’d like to see from your child. This modeling communicates to your child that socializing with this new person is safe, and it lays the foundation for your child to engage in the future … whenever they feel ready.


And I promise you that when your child does feel ready, they’ll say hi, too. You’ve got this.


If you found this article helpful, check out my podcast, follow me on Instagram, and grab my FREE guide, 6 Mindset Shifts to Ditch the Overwhelm & Parent in a Way That Feels Good!

Dr. Hilary Mandzik is a licensed psychologist and mom of three who’s passionate about supporting parents. She’s actively working to change the narrative around parenting and to help parents break unhelpful generational cycles so they can parent in a way that TRULY feels good – for them and for their kids.

She has a private therapy practice where she specializes in perinatal mental health as well as an online parenting support business, where she creates content and offers online programs to support parents in raising resilient, confident kids with less stress (and more joy!). She’s also the host of the parent-loved podcast Raised Resilient with Dr. Hilary.

Social handles:

IG: @raisedresilient

TikTok: @raisedresilient


www.raisedresilient.com — Raised Resilient homepage

www.raisedresilient.com/podcast — Raised Resilient with Dr. Hilary podcast homepage

www.hilarymandzik.com — therapy practice (Hilary Mandzik, PsyD) homepage

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