Parenting Style Influences Shyness in Children

Shyness is a behavior that can cause problems for children and adults. But adolescents, who experience elevated emotional turmoil, are more vulnerable to the symptoms of extreme shyness. “Although they might be easy to overlook, they probably experience much private unhappiness, as adolescent shy behavior is linked to loneliness, having fewer friends, and other internalizing problems such as anxiety, low self-worth, depression, social phobia, and eating disorders among women,” said Neira van Zalk of the Center for Developmental Research at Orebro University in Sweden. Shyness has also been shown to cause stress in social situations, leading to social anxiety that can result in negative thoughts, impaired job performance and general dysfunction. These symptoms can be caused by a number of factors, but recently, researchers have begun to examine how parenting styles influence the development of shyness in children. “As a number of reviews show, different forms of socially fearful behaviors, such as shyness, behavioral inhibition, social anxiety, social withdrawal, and reticence, are associated in young children with two forms of parental psychological control: intrusive control and criticism or rejection,” said van Zalk. Parents who are over-controlling, although their intentions are good, may shield their children from stressful life situations, thus prohibiting their ability to develop coping skills and self-regulation. Another factor linked to childhood shyness is the amount of warmth exhibited by parents. Studies suggest that children who receive praise and warmth experience less anxiety, stress and loneliness than children who receive little parental warmth.

Van Zalk and a team of researchers analyzed data collected from several waves of a larger study conducted on Swedish adolescents. The teens were interviewed for symptoms of anxiety and shyness, and reported how they perceived the parenting they received. “In this study,” said van Zalk, “We found that the more shy adolescents were, the more intrusively controlling, rejecting, and less emotionally warm they perceived their parents to be over time. There was also some evidence that the more youths perceived parents as intrusively controlling, the more their shyness increased over time.” Van Zalk added that the teens with the most severe shyness received the least parental warmth. “Why would shyness elicit these behaviors from parents? One possible explanation is that parents mistakenly see the adolescent’s social isolation as intentional and that they tend to do this more as youths age,” said van Zalk. “Their lack of warmth and rejection might reflect frustration or concern that is not expressed properly. Another possibility is that some correlate of shyness helps to explain parents’ critical, rejecting reactions.” Van Zalk added, “Maybe parents whose children show shy behavior can help by being aware of their children’s oversensitivity and their own responses to their children.”

Van Zalk, Nejra, and Margaret Kerr. “Shy Adolescents’ Perceptions of Parents’ Psychological Control and Emotional Warmth: Examining Bidirectional Links.” Merill-Palmer Quarterly 57.4 (2011): 375-401. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Allan Grant

    October 26th, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    I have a nephew who is extremely shy and unfortunately it’s often misinterpreted as aloofness, not shyness. He does fairly well when he’s with immediate family. When he steps outside that comfort zone though, he retreats into himself and stumbles often when attempting to talk if he’s drawn into conversation. That only adds anxiety to his problem. His dad’s always been very strict with him and that’s what I blame it on.

  • Charles

    May 1st, 2018 at 12:51 PM

    Hi, I think the hardest part and most frustrating part about parents is that they are so judgemental. They baby their kids so much and make them do what they want them to do INSTEAD of what their kid wants to do. and it really sucks to have to sneak away precious hours of freedom instead of spending valuble time with your parents. Get a drivers license and go places. before you know it SHAYNESS IS GONE.

  • gleek

    October 26th, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    ok so I can see how sometimes this could be influenced by the parents and their environment growing up. . . but it feels like I see just as many kids who have a great home life and great parents who have this shyness thing to overcome because we do know that this can be perceived as a weakness. . . there are just some kids who seem to naturally be shy and it is hard to overcome something like that

  • justine hennessey

    October 26th, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    My friend’s daughter’s only 6 and is terribly shy. I can’t understand why having read this because both her mother and her father are very warm and generous people. It frustrates my friend to no end that she’s not an outgoing child. She feels her daughter’s missing out because she never wants to attend stuff like birthday parties or go to sleepovers with her cousins.

    I’ve never seen her treated with anything but love either. I guess there are exceptions to every rule.

  • Beth-Ann Wilson

    October 26th, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    Is it possible for shyness to be hereditary? I am doing my best to overcome my shyness in preparation for leaving college and entering the working world. My dad said I need to project a more positive “can do” image if I want to get a job in this economy and learn to speak up. I feel like a fake though. I’ve always been the one that wants to sit at the back of the class and observe, not be up at the front and clamoring for attention.It’s just not who I am.

    My mother was and is a quiet, shy angel of a soul. Could it be some genetic marker I have that makes this so hard to get past?

  • Jenni Greenberg

    October 26th, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    @Beth-Ann Wilson – Methinks you need another perspective on this, my dear. Kirkpatrick Sale said this. “Everyone is shy -it is the inborn modesty that makes us able to live in harmony with other creatures and our fellows. Achievement comes not by denying shyness but, occasionally, by setting it aside and letting pride and perspiration come first.”

    You needn’t throw away your identity and reinventing yourself entirely. You can however work at making sure your shyness doesn’t always get top billing in your life.

  • Maxwell D. Richards

    October 26th, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    @Beth-Ann–Shyness is not necessarily hereditary, although it can be. There can be genetic and environmental influences for example.

    Your mom’s shy and you were raised under her care. I would imagine that like most women she did the lion’s share of nurturing you. Children imitate their parents, so logically yes you’re going to pick up shyness traits-even if you aren’t genetically disposed to them already.

  • skj

    October 26th, 2011 at 11:12 PM

    my parents were so over-protective!they did it with a good intention yes but it was a little choking for me and my siblings.we turned out fine but yes,none of us can be labelled the life of a party either.

  • Jason.T

    October 27th, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    Shyness is not necessarily a negative thing,is it? Does it universally imply an underlying personality problem? Aren’t there people who are just ‘shy’ but are perfectly fine otherwise?

  • Owen Lang

    October 28th, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    I think the only way to cure yourself of shyness is to face it head-on. Make yourself talk to people more. It need only be a few words or sentences. Say hello to strangers on a bus or chat to the girl at the checkout. If you’re worried about making a fool of yourself, do practice with strangers. If you’re unlikely to ever meet that lady with the dog in the park again, you’re not going to be so worried about the impression you make upon her.

  • seth

    October 31st, 2011 at 4:16 AM

    aaaccchhh! I really do get pretty tired of reading about how everything always boils back down to the parents? Really?! I am nothing like may parents and probably not even cut from the mold that they would have envisioned for me. But that’s the way it goes. Shyness is something that is or is not present in someone. Now maybe how they deal with it could be influenced by the parenting style that they are raised around but I have a pretty hard time believing that if someone is shy that it is caused by mom or dad.

  • Joe

    March 21st, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    I am a shy person and I can say it is true for me. My mom is aggressive, over-controlling and criticizing for each and everything and my dad is passive. Moreover, our childhood was spent in boarding schools and in foster houses. This has caused me to withdraw into my own shell. I realized it when I was 21yrs old. I am now struggling with depression and social anxiety disorders and taking medications for it.

  • Billy

    October 20th, 2012 at 7:31 AM

    Extreme shyness can be negative as can be extreme extrovertness. Both “extremes” are often considered negative, because (make no mistake about it) both suck the energy out of others. I am a little shy myself and I am well aware of it, but I am very open once you talk to me and I keep my body language open. Sometimes I just have to overcome my shyness to get certain things done. I cut a friend of 10 years out of my life. He too is shy,but way too much, even for me.I couldn’t take it anymore. People would try their best to engage him into things and his answer to everything was NO. Now, he tried his best not to stand out, but that was exactly the reason why he did stand out. He once came to my house and we all (couple of friends) wanted to go out, he refused. Scared of dancing, talking to/meeting people. We all winded up not going. I didn’t want to throw him out of my house, so we all stayed. He became the center of everybody’s attention when he didn’t want to be, but in a negative way. He has this ability of making others feel akward, stupid, less valuable, beneath him. Why? because everytime someone would talk to him he would either get you to shut up, end the conversation in a rude way, place a rude comment, ignore the question or the person or something like that.He was rubbing of his akwardness on to others, again a negative habit. We all felt we were bothering him. I decided that it was not up to me to keep diving into his overprotected dark litte world and pull someone out who does not want to leave there. He was trying his upper best to avoid every situation that would gain him life experience. Ten years later I realised that I had grown as a person and he was still in high school. He is now 40 and still single. It was a hard decision to make, but my life feels less heavy without him.

  • Ray

    January 28th, 2017 at 7:24 AM

    As a child I was extremely shy and introverted, not for good reasons either. I was extremely unhappy and had severe anxiety and depression, my parents could be over controlling and no warmth at all at times. When I was forced to hang out with a homeschool group again and again, I didn’t fit in with them as they were all loud and out going and I was struggling inside, felt like no one hears or sees me. I was extremely suicidal at one point. I’m now 16 and that was back when I was 11 – 15. I fought my parents, rebelled, in attempts to be heard and there were a few brutal argumentive fights that were really a bitch slap to all of us and changes were inevitable because I couldn’t live that way any longer it was gonna kill me. Any who that’s my story… Some people are struggling, it varies.

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