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Overcoming shyness: parents can set a good example for kids

Each year dozens of articles list appropriate gifts for children of various ages. Millions of parents read the lists and dutifully provide what they can. Yet our children will remember more about the unwrappable gifts we give them than they will about the ones we buy.

Too little is said about the unwrappable gifts we can give children -- the ones that don't wear out, break, or need batteries --like a capacity for developing friendships.

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Many books offer friends, and keep friends. Clearly, adults are trying to resolve many personal social challenges. I suspect it is often because they didn't develop friendship skills as children. They lack a "friend sense" and self-confidence and sometimes are held back by social rules passed on by well-meaning parents.

Friendliness is contagious. But too many people teach their children to wait and catch it from someone else.

Last week I saw a little boy point out a child in his second-grade class to his mother. "That's the one I told you about. That's Danny."

The mother looked with interest, then said, "Maybe he'll ask you over to play sometime and you can get to know him."

She's teaching her son to wait -- and hope. A better response? "Let's invite him over to play Saturday."

A child who learns early to make the first move, to say hello first, to extend the first invitation, will develop confidence in his social skills -- and in himself. He will reap rewards the timid never know.

Some younsters are shy about doing this. So are some adults. So many of us hide and, by example, teach our chidren to hide behind a screen of propriety. We fear being rejected and may, unconsciously, communicate this fear to our youngsters.

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A very quiet woman came to open house one evening at a school where I was teaching.She didn't say a word in any of the parent-teacher discussions. She didn't mix with the other parents or greet them in any way. Finally, when all the others left, she approached me and said softly, "I'm Allen's mother. I wanted to talk to you about a problem he has. He's extremely shy."

Indeed he was. And so was his mother.

Many a parent who considers himself reserved will scold a child for being shy.

"Timidiy," cautioned La Rochefaucauld, "is a dangerous fault to point out in those we would cure of it."

Never indulge in labeling: "Don't be so bashful!" "You're too timid." "Don't be a fraidy cat!" "You're neverm going to have friends if you don't stop acting shy."

Then the child may feel not only shy but helpless.

Parents can help most by setting an example -- by being friendly to others and by initiating friendships. It's a classic opportunity to practice what you preach.

Children are far more likely to follow our example than our advice.

If your child sees you make the first move in greeting a new person, if he sees you step up and say, "Hi, I'm Karen Albright," or "Hello, I'm John Martin, we live down the street," he's likely to do the same thing.

It almost never occurs to children that adults, too, experience feelings of shyness. When children realize that wem sometimes feel shy, their own shyness becomes less awesome.

When you feel shy, you might admit to your child, "I felt shy about inviting Nancy Adams for lunch, but I'm so glad I did.We had a lovely time."

Or, "You know, I'd never met our personnel director before. I felt a little shy about introducing myself in the company cafeteria today. I'm happy I did. We had a very pleasant talk -- he's an interesting man."

"Do the thing," said Emerson, "and you will have the power."

When a child sees us set aside our own feelings of shyness and make the first move, it gives him courage to try. $ TThe best gift of all is a good example.

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