As a martial arts instructor, I see one of the biggest things that stops children and adults trying something a class is “shyness”. So-called shyness involves anxiety and behavioural inhibition in social situations. I believe that everybody experiences shyness at some point, especially children. It is how we (for ourselves or our children) handle this that makes all the difference.
Shy people are sometimes labelled introverts. A lot of people misconstrue introverts as people who do not like social situations. This is not correct. Extroverts get their energy from other people, while introverts get their energy from within. To really succeed with anything in life, you need that inner fire or energy. Therefore, introverted people are in-built to succeed at anything they put their mind to.
Some characteristics of shy or introverted people are as follows:
- Initially, they are eager to observe others while being reluctant to join in;
- They are reluctant to enter a new environment without being accompanied by a trusted person (e.g. parent);
- They actually want to interact with others, but don’t because of fear.
There is no known cause for shyness. However, the things that will help overcome shyness include (a) firm attachments between parents and children, (b) helping children with social skills and (c) refraining from teasing or criticising people who are shy or introverted.
There are good points to shyness. Shy people tend to engage in less social misbehaviour, as they do care what others think of them. This is where martial arts can help significantly, as the really good students embrace the philosophical lessons of martial arts into their everyday life. This includes being calm, taking the right actions, and believing in yourself.
However, there are downsides to shyness. The practical side includes less chance to practice social skills, less chance to develop friends, and less chance to develop leadership and responsibility. Because of this, shy people tend to think of their shyness as a problem, which can lead to a low self-esteem. As parents and teachers, we need to help our children (or yourself) to overcome this for their peace of mind. Here are some strategies that we, as martial arts instructors, would suggest:
- Tell the shy person / child about times when you acted bashful – I am painfully shy. I can jump in front of 100 people and do a martial arts class, but shrink into my shell with one-on-one situations. Martial arts has gradually helped me with this. I have been able to express myself through my martial arts. I have a caring and supportive network around me. Martial arts will do this for you or you child as well;
- Explain to the shy person how they will benefit from being outgoing – martial arts allows you to express yourselves. You develop serious skills which gives you confidence. When you are confident, you will be gradually be more outgoing;
- Show empathy when the shy person is afraid to interact – I see this a lot when new children come to trial a class. It can be confronting with all of the noise and activity of a class. You cannot force a shy child into the class, as they will become stubborn. Instead, let the child know that it is OK to be worried. As a parent or teacher, say something like ‘I can tell you feel excited – even nervous – about being here. I also feel nervous and excited. Let’s be excited together and give this a go. Brave people do that”;
- Do not label the children as shy – I do not believe in negative reinforcement. Let the shy person know how bold and outgoing they are when they do things that are outside of their comfort zone. This will give them encouragement for the next time they try something new;
- Set goals for your children who are shy – a good example is to do one martial arts class a week. As parents, track this on a wallchart at home. Give your child a reward or positive encouragement every time they do their one class;
- Children mimic their parents and teachers – if parents or teachers do not show an outgoing nature, or do not try new things for themselves, why will your children? We also need to set a good example. As parents, why don’t you also try a martial arts class with your children?
- Expose the shy person / child to unfamiliar settings and people – again, shy or introverted people get their energy from within. However, in a martial arts class, you need to listen to your teacher and do things with other students. Done in the right way, the shy person can gradually get used to getting energy from others;
- Teach the children to verbally express their emotions – we often do this with the children in class. We have a “talk of the week” and we let the children tell us what they would do or how they feel. You should also do this as parents. Encourage your children to speak about their emotions. Praise your children when they do speak up.
Martial arts is a great way to help children or shy people overcome this. It teaches skills that give you confidence. It is done with other students who are of a similar level, so the shy person does not feel inadequate. It is done with great teachers who will encourage you. Get you (or your child) to give a class a go and see how it will help them express themselves. See you in the dojo.