My daughter is painfully shy and won’t talk in a group

She is an only child, and I worry that she is missing out on being egged on by siblings

Question: Is there anything you can do to help boost confidence in a child? My 10-year-old daughter is painfully shy and seems to have no confidence at all. She has always been on the quiet side, but now she won't even talk to extended members of the family, like her aunts and uncles (who she has been around her whole life).

Her teacher told me before the school holidays that she noticed that she was retreating from answering questions in class, and that when she asked her privately if there was anything wrong, she answered that she didn’t want to put her hand up in case she got the wrong answer and people might laugh.

The teacher doesn’t seem to think that it’s bullying, and says that she has a group of friends, but she is definitely the quiet one. She is an only child, and I worry that she is missing out on being egged on by siblings.

Is there anything that we can do to help bring her out of her shell?


Answer: Lots of children and indeed adults have quite introverted personalities and this not necessarily a problem for them. While in society we tend to over value confidence and people who are "out there" and the life and soul of the party etc, it is often the quieter people who often make the best contributions and indeed who are better at making and keeping close friendships. While you of course want to encourage your daughter to succeed and to not miss out on things that would be make her happy, you have to be carefully about making her "feel bad" about her quieter personality.

Understand her specific fears

Like your daughter, lots of people don’t like speaking in front of audiences and asking questions in big groups. Indeed a fear of public speaking is one of the most common fears that people have and like your daughter, their big fear is often that “people will laugh”. It is likely that your daughter prefers interacting in smaller groups or on a one to one basis and this is all relatively normal. Your daughter’s age is also significant. At the age of ten children become much more socially self-conscious and worry about “fitting in” etc – this can mean they become quieter and more self-conscious when talking in groups. Over time children can naturally become more confident as they grow and develop, learn more social skills and become more settled in their relationships.

Build on your daughter’s strengths

In helping your daughter, the best approach is to build on her strengths and expand out the situations when she is the happiest. When does she talk most? When does she appear the most socially engaged and at her happiest? In which relationships and situations does she communicate most etc? For example, there may be particular friends that she gets on best with or certain activities and interests that she particularly enjoys.

Support her friendships

You mention in your question, that your daughter is the “quiet one” in a group of friends in the class. It is likely that your daughter will find it easier to form friendships on a one to one basis, rather than just in a larger groups. Large friendships groups can be prone to issues of “fallings out” and exclusions or one child getting typecast as the “quiet one” or the “confident one”. Strong friendships are usually developed around one one connections. You can do a lot to help her with friendships by supporting her to have one to one play dates or activities in your home. Help her identify one or two class mates who you could invite over separately to participate in home activities or to go on a trip together. These could belong to her friendship group in the school or indeed be outside it (if there are other children she has more in common with). Making a few good friends will help her feel more confident socially in groups as well as benefiting her overall wellbeing.

Encourage her passions

Children are usually at their most confident and happiest when they are engaged in activities they love and which they are good at. You can support your daughter’s wellbeing by helping her participate in sports, hobbies and other activities that she really enjoys such as joining the girl guides or a choir or anything else that matches her strengths and interests. Indeed it is during these activities that she is likely to make the best friends and where will be most confident in groups.

Coach her in social skills

If your daughter is open to this, you or the teacher can also coach her in how to manage some of the social situations that make her reserved. For example, when she says she is fearful that people will laugh when she asks a question in a group, you can encourage her to think this through – “I know you might imagine this might happen, but think about it . . . is it really likely? Would the teacher let that happen?” Then you can get her to think how she might ask a question and to imagine this going well. Sometimes you can even rehearse the situation in a fun role-play where she practices asking a question in a group. The teacher could also help by setting your daughter up with some small manageable leadership tasks in a group that help build her confidence. They key is to go slowly at her pace. There are also lots of social skills and confidence groups that are run with children as extra-curricular activities. Enquire at the school if they know of any in the area.

John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He has published 14 books, including Positive Parenting: Bringing up responsible, well-behaved and happy children. He will deliver a number of Positive Parenting workshops in Dublin, Cork and Galway, starting in October and November. See for details