People with shy temperaments or personalities tend to be anxious in social situations, especially those that are novel or in which they perceive social evaluation. The experience of shyness may include behavioural (e.g., inhibition, wariness, withdrawal), affective (e.g., anxiety, nervousness), somatic (e.g., racing heart), and/or affective-cognitive components (e.g., self-consciousness, worries about social-evaluation).
Shyness is related to, but different from, solitude, social withdrawal, unsociability, social avoidance, and introversion. Although all these psychological constructs may manifest similarly in that they involve less social interaction, they differ in the motivations underlying the behaviour. Uniquely, shyness is thought to result from conflicting approach and avoidance motivations in social situations. Shyness is also related to, but different from social anxiety disorder (SAD), in part because SAD is more intense, pervasive across situations, and impairing.
Shyness can be heritable. Researchers may have identified certain genetic polymorphisms associated with shyness. However, even if someone is born with a tendency to be shy, they might not actually become shy because shyness is also influenced by children’s environments. Shyness has been associated with certain aspects of parenting, such as overly controlling and protective behaviours. Shyness also has been associated with aspects of peer relationships, such as rejection. However, researchers cannot determine whether these aspects of parenting and peer relationships are causes or consequences of shyness.
Shy children may face difficulties in the school context. It has been related to numerous social and academic problems. Specifically, shy children may have problems in relationships with their peer group (e.g., poor acceptance), one-on-one friendships (e.g., poor friendship quality), and some aspects of their relationships with teachers (e.g., lower teacher–child closeness). In addition, shyness has been related to low school liking, and sometimes has been associated with aspects of poor school engagement and low academic achievement.
Researchers and clinicians have investigated strategies to help shy or socially anxious children and adolescents avoid maladaptive socio-emotional or academic outcomes. For instance, children’s social skills training in combination with parent education and training components is a promising way to improve social behaviours and reduce anxiety. School-based preventions and interventions that include parent and/or teacher components, such as FRIENDS for Life and INSIGHTS into Children’s Temperament, also have been found to mitigate anxiety or improve shy children’s engagement at school. Some treatments for social anxiety disorder, such as cognitive behavioural therapy may also help shy children.