• Zafirah Zulkifli

Do Shy Children Need to Be Fixed?

Decades ago, I was a bubbly, happy-go-lucky, self-assured kid. Or at least I was to my immediate family.

To others, however, I was a shy, quiet, meek girl. Having two sides of myself that I show to different people wasn’t some premeditated decision; this was completely beyond my control.

Photo: With shy kids, the key is to empathise.

Ever since I could remember, I was fearful of the world beyond my home. In the midst of academic pressure and school canteen politics, I tried my best to belong, to fit in. But my best wasn't enough.

That little voice in my head kept telling me that I wasn’t good enough, following me like a cloak of darkness, slowly swallowing me whole.

“Speak up.”

“Just put yourself out there more.”

“Why can’t you be more like [insert name of outgoing, sociable and extroverted person]?”

People would say variations of the same thing to me. Instead of making me feel encouraged, it only made me feel like there was something wrong with me. As if I didn’t already know.

No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t come out of my shell. It took a lot of patience from friends for me to open up. Some people weren’t as patient as others, and understandably so.

See also: Confessions of an Unsociable Child

Over the years, it frustrated me that I had little control over my own reactions and awkwardness. For the longest time, I thought my shyness was a weakness… Except, it wasn’t a weakness at all.

Though I had difficulty speaking up in public, I had a lot to say on paper. My mind was filled with all sorts of thoughts, ideas and stories, and I ended up falling in love with writing.

Though I did not have many close friends during my childhood years, I’ve gotten close to some wonderful people over the years. I wouldn’t trade my best friends now for the world.

I’ve now out-grown my childhood (and teenage) shyness, but I’ve also come to accept that it was part of growing up and learning about myself. 

There was nothing wrong with me, and I wouldn’t have changed who I was—because it’s those experiences that have shaped the person I am now.

Being an introvert, I naturally like to be in my own world most times. Trying to change this would be rejecting a big part of myself. Introversion doesn’t always equate to shyness, but shyness can be a big part of an introvert’s formative years.

One thing’s for sure: shyness isn’t some kind of disease, or a flaw, or a weakness.

Instead of trying to change a shy child or “fix” their shyness, embrace their personality. Encourage them the right way. Celebrate their strengths. Listen to them without judgement when they do open up.

They’ll learn in their own way and in their own time. All you have to do is love them, support them and accept them for who they are, and who they’ll grow to be.

Zafirah likes eating and travelling. Her biggest inspiration is Neil Gaiman, and her favourite genre (both in film and literature) is horror… even though she still sleeps with the light on.





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