Six Effective Ways to Connect with & Help Shy Students

Do you have shy students on your case load? Maybe they don’t come by when they have an issue or perhaps they are struggling to insert themselves into social situations. As counselors, we can create a space for them to feel comfortable, familiar, and safe to open up! Today, I’m really excited to share this guest post by Stephan Maldonado from teach.com! He is sharing six effective ways to connect with and help shy students.

Six Effective Ways to Connect with Shy Students

Working with shy students can pose its own unique challenges, but it can also present you with opportunities to discover new ways of engaging with all your students. For school counselors, who are charged with nurturing student growth within the classroom and beyond, it is especially important to connect with shy students—fostering a relationship in which they feel comfortable, safe, and seen.

According to Dr. Craig Vickio, a clinical psychologist at Bowling Green State University, shyness can essentially be described as “discomfort or anxiety in social situations”. Social situations can trigger a shy child’s fear of how they are evaluated by their peers. This fear may lead to self-consciousness, where the child develops a warped view of how other students perceive them and begins to “rate themselves” in comparison to others. For shy children, settings like the classroom instill an expectation that they will be evaluated, and a fear of the consequences of that evaluation.

Shyness is a temperament; one that some studies suggest develops as early as infancy. Students may be shy for any number of reasons. They may lack self-confidence, or have had negative social experiences, such as bullying. There might be a problem at home, or they might simply be introverted. As a school counselor, you will likely discover the underlying cause for your students’ shyness as you develop relationships with them. Here are six ways to begin forming that connection.

Begin a dialogue.

According to a 2015 paper published by professionals at Carleton University and the University of Nebraska, “There is some evidence that children’s shyness is linked to the quality of their relationships with teachers. A close teacher–child relationship consists of warm and open interactions between the teacher and the child, and is predictive of positive school outcomes among all children.” While this paper focuses on teachers, many of its points can be applied to the relationships between school counselors and their students as well.

A close relationship with your students begins with a dialogue. Whether on the first day of school or when you first begin to notice a student is shy, it’s important to let them know they are seen. Get to know them a little bit more. Ask them questions about their hobbies or their favorite subjects. Open the door to let them know you are someone who cares and someone with whom they can feel comfortable.

Let the student come to you.

One thing you don’t want to do is push a shy student too hard. Demanding this dialogue can create added anxiety. Once you’ve let your student know the door is open, leave it open for them. Establish yourself as somebody who is here to talk. Encourage them to seek help from you or ask questions whenever they need. Shy students crave familiarity and reliability, and if you’ve positioned yourself as a consistent source of guidance, they will eventually begin reaching out to you.

Promote small group activities.

Using group activities is an excellent way to promote social skills and teaching your students about teamwork. Even though this may seem counterintuitive, group activities may actually be helpful for shy students. Group work creates a “social microcosm”: students are placed in contexts where they mirror their typical behavior in general social settings, but in a smaller, more controlled environment. This enables them to observe how they interact with other people, and reflect on how they can more easily adjust to different situations. When assigning students to groups, focus a little more attention on the groups your shy students are in so you can keep an eye on them.

Encourage them to work with friends.

It’s important for students to learn how to work with all of their peers, but shy students may struggle a little bit more. If you notice that your shy students to seem to have friends in your class, or other students with whom they are at least friendly, encourage them to work together whenever possible. Assign them to the same groups, or seat them next to each other. This will help ease them into the idea of working with their peers.

Incorporate icebreakers and team-building activities.

The classroom can be an intimidating social situation for children who are shy—especially on the first day of school, or when surrounded by peers they don’t know very well. Icebreakers and team-building activities are a fun and exciting way of getting students to participate and learn more about one another. Games that encourage students to share information about themselves, or activities that promote problem solving and build trust, can help the classroom seem a little less daunting.

Schedule regular check-ins.

Once you’ve fostered a close relationship with your shy student, it’s important to monitor their progress. Scheduling regular check-ins helps you stay in touch with them and allows you to chart their development over the school year. How are they adjusting to their classes? Are they participating in any extracurricular activities? Do they get along well with other students? The school year is a journey for all students, and this is especially true of the shy ones. Guiding them through that journey can help them get the most of their educational experience.

-Stephan Maldonado

What are your tips for working with shy students? What do you find works to create a supportive and open relationship with them? Let me know in the comments!

If you’re interested in doing a guest post on my blog, please contact me! I’d love to hear from you and collaborate.

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