Helping Kids Ease Out of Shyness

As back-to-school time creeps up, many children are feeling anxious, and in many cases, shyness is to blame.

A recent Harvard University study basically concludes that babies are born with a propensity to shyness, and it lingers throughout their lives.

But shyness expert Bernardo Carducci, director of Indiana University Southeast's Shyness Research Institute, says parents can help children ease out of shyness.

"What the study really is talking about is 'inhibited temperament,' a biological condition that people bring with them into the world," Carducci told Good Morning America. "But it doesn't guarantee you'll be a shy adult." (See our tips for parents)

Study Says Children Born Shy

The Harvard study followed about 500 children over the course of five years and found that even at eight weeks old, kids who had "inhibited temperament" responded to strangers and loud noises with a faster heartbeat and louder crying than the other babies.

Blair Bailey and Lisa Loch, two Boston children participating in the study, showed different reactions to stimuli as babies.

At age four months, Bailey was relaxed and happy or "low reactive" when confronted with a toy that had a mechanical voice saying "Hello, pretty baby." Meanwhile, Loch, who was also four months, cried and squirmed and was "highly reactive" when she was confronted with the noise.

At 21 months, Bailey was relaxed and eager to explore an all-new setting, without her mom, but Loch acted like she was desperate for her mother to take her out of the setting. While interacting with an adult, at age four and a half, Bailey was a chatty child, while Loch kept her hands and her thoughts to herself.

Although the study found 20 percent of kids were shy, other studies indicate that 45 percent of adults are shy, or consider themselves to be. Carducci says that shy children do not have to be shy as adults.

What Can Parents Do?

The most important thing that parents can do is to not trivialize their kids' concerns, Carducci said. They should ease the transition to school by telling kids they will do the same things there that they do at home: read, play outside, and go to the bathroom. The bottom line is to minimize the novelty of school and play up the child's strengths and familiarities.

One little boy headed back to school, Mushi, said he was scared to go alone.

"The scariest thing about the first day of school is that your parents aren't with you," Mushi said.

Carducci suggests that Mushi's parents take him to school a few days before class starts, and perhaps find out what types of things he'll be doing the first few days of schools. He can practice those activities, such as talking about his summer vacation, at home.

Another girl, Rebecca, said she felt surrounded by strangers at school.

"Well you know I go into the school, I look around, I'm like, 'Uh oh, I don't know anyone hereā€¦,'" she said.

Parents can make sure the kids arrive early and teach them that the best way to make friends is gradually, by standing, waiting and hovering, allowing other kids to get used to you.

Other kids are fearful about speaking in class.

"When I have trouble speaking up in class it's because when sometimes my whole class stares at me and I just start to sweat and I get really embarrassed," Bill said.

Parents can express empathy, saying they had difficulty at a business meeting, so they stopped, waited a moment, then spoke again, without rushing.

For children worried about workloads, parents can explain that homework is, basically reading and thinking about what they read, then talking about the topic. Parents can also offer to help at home.