Generation Cedar

In an attempt to address some very practical applications of child-training, I thought we’d take a few days to discuss public manners and social etiquette.

Of course, it must be established up front that these things are important, and we must know why they are important.

Everyone has different reasons, but from a Christian standpoint, we try to teach our children that manners are simply a tangible form of “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

But even for the non-Christian, I think we can all agree that a well-socialized person experiences more success and contributes more to society than one who is not.

Sadly, it seems harder and harder to find courteous, well-mannered people. And on the extreme end of the spectrum, we find people who can’t even function in society and go on unexplainable shooting rampages. But I digress.

We have had a shy one in our bunch and I know that often parents are uncertain of how to handle a shy child.

On the one hand, we want them to be who they are, and we accept that some children are naturally less out-going than others.

Yet, we expect them to be courteous, even it means breaking out of their comfort zones enough to speak when spoken to.

The way we have dealt with this can be summed up in a few practical training sessions:

Tell them what is expected. Beginning at around the age of 2, they can understand a simple command like “Answer someone when they ask you a question”, or “When someone says ‘hi’, you say ‘hi’ back.

1. Practice at home. They will be more confident if they have acted out and know exactly what the social situation may look like.

2. Practice with friends. We have explained to friends before that we are working on helping a shy child respond, and will have them directly ask a few questions.

3. Remind them right before a social situation. Before you walk into the grocery store, simply say, “If someone says ‘hi’ to you, remember to say ‘hi’ back.” You may even ask if they want to practice.

4. Distinguish between defiance and fear/confusion. There may be a time when the child knows what is expected and simply refuses to comply. Such behavior is considered disobedience and is dealt with accordingly. Sometimes, though, they just need some extra nudging or practicing

5. Simply put, a shy child still has no reason to refuse to speak to others in a brief, courteous way.

Our shy one now has no problem speaking to others; she isn’t expected to be bubbly or verbose, but a smiling response is expected and she has risen to the task.

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22 Responses

  1. Oh Kelly,thank you so much! I have a VERY shy one. And NOT being shy at all;
    I have a hard time knowing how to deal with it.

    This is helpful, so thank you!

    P.s. Sometimes shy people are considered by others as snobbish or rude, and it makes it harder for them to have a good testimony if they let it overtake them. My poor husband deals with it and it can be miserable for him at times.

  2. Good pointers. We have 2 shy ones, but only one struggles with responding appropriately. I think we need to do more practicing!

  3. This is a great post! Wish I had read it years ago, now our shy one is 12 and appears rude when he is just painfully shy. We are working with him on looking people in the eye, shaking hands, replying when spoken to, but I sure wish we would have started years ago instead of just brushing it all off on shyness.

  4. As someone who WAS a shy kid but whose mother had an approach like yours, I can say, “Right on, Kelly!” Being shy has something to do with the way we express our own selfish nature; we become self-absorbed and fixated on what others’ reactions will be. We are self-focused and overly aware of ourselves. Forcing ourselves to reach out in small ways and to think of others (manners is a good way to instill this) is one of the best ways I know of to overcome shyness. Once I realized it wasn’t all about me, I actually was able to blossom–and even became an actress!

  5. Thank you for this post! I was theorizing how to approach this one with my 3 year old son. He’s not shy, but he is actually defiant in public situations. We can get him to obey ok at home, but in public, its a little hard to flick his ear when he doesn’t obey in response to a question…
    oy…its difficult.

  6. I, too was shy as a child. My parents were both very introverted/shy/low self esteem, but somehow I learned to overcome my shyness socially. I am still introverted, but people in life have told me they dont always see that. I guess perhaps I have gorwn in dealing with my shyness.

    I do not agree that shyness in and of itself is necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. But I do like the suggestions, Kelly, esp #4. Just YESTERDAY an elderly neighbor lady was telling me that my oldest has such good manners and a cheerful smile, but that the younger three struggle to say hello (loud enough….its more like mumbling).

    Sometimes it seems as if shyness is linked to low self worth. Ive seen children like this….it seems like they are afraid, or cower down when spoken too. I dont think that is a wrong doing, but perhaps a squashed spirit?

  7. And what of the people who ignore or refuse to speak to my very social 2 year old who says ‘hi’ to just about everyone we meet?

    It’s astonishing that adults have so little social grace. Maybe you need to write a blog post about teaching manners to adults!

  8. Terry,

    LOL…that’s kind of my motive. Children with bad manners grow up to be adults with bad manners. And everyone suffers.

  9. Kelly, this is great, I have two very shy nephews, and we strive towards the same goal.

    Also, I think it’s important for the childless (or the non-shy child having) to remeber that even we can impact this. I can’t help but smile at kids I walk past (kids have to be the coolest things in the universe!, and often say hello (I have a 3/4 mile walk to and from work every day, and pass by two elementary schools, I pass a lot of kids) Just the act of smiling at strangers or nodding your head and saying hello has passed us by (I try to say hi to anyone I make eye contact with). I can’t help but feel that losing that little tiny human cutesy hurts our whole civilization.

    Off topic Kelly, I want you to know (publicly) how much you have impacted my life. You have won me over in some respects. Not in religion (which perhaps you’d prefer) but in realizing that gender is ingrained, and feminism does indeed lie to us. I have started to apply more traditional roles in my marriage, and it may be pulling me from the brink of divorce!!!!!!!!!! The biggest outward difference… after 2 years of marriage being stubborn and obnoxious, I’m changing my name. Hubby couldn’t be more thrilled!!!!!! THANK YOU!!!! (ANd thanks to blogger “MamaKnifton’ as well, who has counseled me greatly!)

    Love and Thanks,
    the soon-to-be Mrs. Platt!!!!!!

  10. May I also add… (ok, this is a little buit of a downer but I live in an area that can be rough and have a lot of crime) it has been reported that potential ‘attackers’ (of any sort) are less likely to attack someone who has looked them in the face (they are recognizable at that point) Like I said, I know this isn’t at all what you were going for, but I live on the South Side of Chicago, I HAVE to think of these things…

  11. "perhaps a squashed spirit?"


    I do think that it depends on the situation.

    Definitely not in our situation. My little boy inherited it.

    My in laws are the quietest, shyest people EVER. Both of my husband's parents and all three of their children are quiet & shy.
    I mean… my side of the family has actually clicked their fingers and hummed the "Adams family" song. LOL (like my family doesn't have weird quirks too… all families do… what is normal huh?)

    I love them anyway…

    But I KNEW I would have a shy one before my kids ever came along. Thankfully only one of my boys suffers with it (my four year old), but it's a real challenge. He is even shy with us sometimes at home. Especially if everyone is looking at him!

    So I need all the help I can get!

  12. At ten months, my daughter is already more social than my husband and I put together. We are socially clueless geeks who each have two parents who are not overly social, and one for each of us that could qualify as a geek.

    I don’t know how to interact with people. Often I don’t want to. If I haven’t gotten enough sleep, this applies even to people I know. I don’t know how to make friends (this is due in part to my shyness and in part to my childhood experiences, which may in part account for my shyness as well). But I’m not really shy–once I open up more than I intended seems to come out, and I can be quite boisterous–I just struggle with the whole “people” thing–they are so unpredictable, I guess, and when they are predictable it’s not in a good way, and I am convinced that people instinctively dislike me, especially since hearing from a friend who did instinctively dislike me before becoming friends with me anyway.

  13. As a former painfully shy child and a communication teacher, I know how difficult it can be. Most shyness is not a personality issue, it’s really simply a lack of social communication skills. Not everyone is going to be a bubbly outgoing person. Some are more introverted and quiet, but shyness is different and may be a debilitating issue for a child or an adult. Usually a better understanding and practice of communication skills is all that is needed.

  14. Kelly, I recently stumbled upon your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed "getting to know you" through it. This particular post was so timely in our family's life, however, that I couldn't NOT leave a comment. Just yesterday I was out running errands with our two youngest (ages 10 & 8) and was blessed to hear many nice comments on how polite and well-behaved they were. 🙂 Who of us doesn't like to hear such things? But, I struggled with the fact that my daughter (the 8 year old) utterly refused to look at or verbally acknowledge anyone who spoke with her during the day — except when the receptionist at the eye dr. offered her a Tootsie Pop!

    On our way home from town, I took the opportunity to remind my children that their behavior is a testimony to the world — that people can see Jesus in us and wonder why we're different. I told them I was proud of their good behavior (being quiet, not touching everything, waiting patiently, etc.). But I also talked to them both (and my husband spoke with our daughter when he tucked her into bed last night) about how important it is to NOT appear to be rude to others by not looking at them with a smile or to at least in the most simple way acknowledge them.

    Reading your post this morning was a great encouragement to me to continue encouraging my little girl to overcome her shyness. Thanks for the timely post. 🙂

  15. Thanks, Kelly. Great tips! Sometimes shyness is just as self-centered as chattiness tends to be. These are good ideas for helping the quiet child grow out of their comfort zone.

  16. “Being shy has something to do with the way we express our own selfish nature; we become self-absorbed and fixated on what others’ reactions will be. We are self-focused and overly aware of ourselves.”

    I love that Bethany! I have been “shy” all of my life and it just occurred to me a few months ago what was the root of the problem. I have been unable to explain it in words to my husband. I think you hit the nail on the head. Now comes the hard part though, breaking 30 years of a really bad habit. By the grace of God.

    This is a timely post Kelly, and I thank you for it. We’re just beginning to discuss how my daughter’s shyness is actually rudeness and needs to be nipped in the bud quickly, as she’s about to go on the VF Father Daughter Retreat in a couple weeks.

  17. oh, yes, Kim M, I dont think *every* situation of shyness means a squashed spirit! I certainly believe sometimes shyness just is what it is….:)I was just having an over-analytical moment. 🙂

  18. Kelly,

    I was a very shy child and now I am a very shy adult.

    I think now I am labeled shy an overly sensitive….

    Unless you come up and talk to me first…I just stand there quietly.

    I do talk at home and with others I know…. but it is very hard for me to open up to strangers.

    I have two daughters that love to talk:)and that makes me happy!!


  19. AM,


    I do that all the time (overanalyze)… sometimes it makes me paranoid!

    My husband tells me to to “chill” (in his own words) sometimes. ha! That usually calms me down and makes me laugh.

  20. I agree with Kim. I think many times shyness is inherited.

    I WAS a painfully, shy child, in school I only whispered for years, would not speak to teachers or adults, had very few friends. Now my youngest daughter is more than painfully shy, she has been labeled as selectively mute.

    What is SM? She speaks fine at home, but not anywhere else. She also won’t eat other places, use the bathroom at other places, or laugh – because she would be making noises.

    Is she doing it out of rebellion? I don’t think so. I think it is a control thing, but she feels that things are out of control and speaking (or not)is the only thing in her control. What I’m saying is shyness is an underlying anxiety issue. My daughter has been this way since birth.

    We are taking steps to work on the underlying anxiety issue and practicing communications skills.
    Such as reading books about her feelings (and writing books). This is a non-threatening way of talking out her feelings with me.

    Now that she’s 7 yrs old, she’s starting to take notice that people see her differently, and that adds to her anxiety. Most of the time adults behave worse than children about her “shyness.”

    My standard reply when someone speaks directly to her and she can’t get the words out, “We’re still working on our manners.” And we are.

    It is important to be able to speak in this world, to give testimony and to relay basic needs. But on the other hand, you see things alot differently when you just remain quiet. I need to learn to be quieter, you don’t put your foot in your mouth nearly as much! LOL!

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