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Previous Questions - Week of March 20, 2000

Dear Shykids, My brother is thirteen and he's smart and funny at home, but anywhere else he's quiet and scared. My parents and I really worry about him and try to help him but we don't seem to be getting anywhere. In school, he hardly speaks to anyone and only talks to teachers if he absolutely has to. The girls seem to think he's cute but he looks terrified when they talk to him. Any suggestions on how to help him? Big Brother

Dear Big Brother, There are some practical steps you might want to try to help your brother. Assuming that you can speak openly with him, pick a quiet time to sit down and speak to him. Let him know that you are concerned about him and about the fact that his shyness may cause him unhappiness in the future. 

As you may know, shy people feel self-conscious and awkward much of the time because rather than living in the moment, they often spend that moment thinking about how the look or behave or what others may think of them. It is very important to change that thinking and that takes practice, and lots of it. This is where you can really help your brother by role playing with him.

Take the role of teacher, principal, girl in the next seat and start a conversation with him. He may feel silly, but press him a bit to answer your questions or greetings. Ask him to look at you and speak up. Think of a variety of different scenarios and questions or comments that arise during an average day. Help him think of the answers and always encourage him to speak directly to you. The goal here is to get him to speak with confidence in a variety of situations.

One thing that often holds shy kids back is the fear of asking a question or saying "I don't know" or "what do you think about that?"

Do impress upon him that questions need to be asked and that admitting you don't know something can be a very freeing experience.

Encourage him to join as many after school activities as is practical. Very often, shy kids back away from such activities because of the social pressures they feel and fear of failure. However, the only way we learn what we are interested in or what our talents are is by trying many different things. Your brother needs the confidence that discovering his talents brings. Everyone has talent(s). It takes some longer than others to find that talent. His talent might be any one of a hundred things, from soccer player to math whiz.

Encourage him to have a classmate or two over to the house. Very often, talking to classmates in the more familiar setting of home helps break the ice.

Talk to him about many different subjects. What are his opinions on school, the math teacher homework, his favorite basketball team. Who does he think should be the next president? Shy people spend so much of their time in a state of near panic, that they take little time to think about what they really think.

Try not to mention girls to him. If your brother has trouble speaking to male classmates, the thought of speaking to a girl may overwhelm him. Speak to him in terms of people. Teachers, moms and dads, boys and girls are all just people. Your brother seems to need to gain a great deal more confidence before he can deal with girls, especially the ones that think he's cute.

If your brother gets a clearer picture of who he is an what he thinks, he may very well gain the confidence he needs to start talking steps to become more a part of the life around him.

One thing that often holds shy kids back is the fear of asking a question or saying "I don't know" or "what do you think about that?"

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