The ABCs of Helping a Shy Child

The Reading Tub, Inc. is all about literacy … helping kids learn to read and giving families the tools to nurture this critical skill. There are many facets to literacy, and much of it starts with a child’s own perceptions.

At lunch today, I read a Washington Post article about Seung-Hei Cho, the student who killed fellow students, faculty members, and himself at Virginia Tech in April 2007. [“Uknown to VA Tech, Cho Had a Disorder,” Washington Post, 8/27/2007]

We have heard or read lots about Cho’s psychological profile, but I learned something new. He suffered from a condition called selective mutism, a symptom of an anxiety disorder. Here is a vignette from a student in one of Cho’s high school classes (paraphrased from the article): when asked by a teacher to participate in class (like reading out loud), Cho would become paralyzed and could not speak. Then the students would start laughing at him.

I’m sure you can see why that story caught my attention. Cho’s was a severe reaction, due to a diagnosed emotional disability. Still, I would bet that there are individuals who are shy who can IN A SMALL WAY understand his feelings of fear. What if our child is shy? What if our child was afraid to read out loud to his classmates? Would we want people laughing at him?

Laurie Adelman (BSN, Masters in Family Health/Health Education) has written a book about helping children who are shy. Laurie has graciously given us permission to post an article about helping shy children on our Website. Click here to read it. The principals that Laurie presents in her work also are readily applied to helping a child who is afraid to read. Reading or learning to read may be one of those things that causes great anxiety for our kids.

* Parents, teachers, TV commercials all tell us how important it is to read … and to do it NOW.
* Their friends may already be reading books.
* As parents, we fall into the trap of thinking our kids should be reading “just like their friends.”
* Kids may feel uncomfortable reading words aloud. They may be afraid someone will laugh if they mispronounce a word.

You can think of other reasons, too. The bottom line is this: some kids find the idea more than a little bit overwhelming. Regardless of their reasoning, in their mind, learning to read seems “too hard.” So our role is to encourage, not pressure!

Thanks to Laurie, there are things we can do to help with the every-day, completely natural anxieties our kids experience when moving to something new!