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Shyness and Self-Esteem

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: Understanding how critical self-esteem is for future happiness and success, I feel that my husband and I have been very diligent about constantly affirming our son, telling him we love him, showing interest in what he does and carving out significant time to spend with him. However, he has just turned three and is acting very shy and reticent in some situations. For instance, he won't leave his nanny to sit up front at a story hour. And, recently, when the reader was passing out paper for a crafts project, she overlooked him and he refused to speak up for himself - all the other kids were, of course, grabbing and taking the paper, not willing to be left behind. But my son wouldn't even ask for it. Do you think we have a self-esteem problem here? Is shyness indicative of low self-esteem or can you be shy and have high self-esteem?

A: You most certainly do not have a self-esteem problem. Your son is experiencing what every child of his age and developmental stage experiences to some degree- a problem with separating from his parents while he is attempting to make sense of and socialize in entirely new settings with kids and adults he's never met before. It's not that he 'refused" to speak up for himself, like it was a conscious act. He's barely three and he's uncertain at best of how to navigate emotionally in this new social setting.

Continuing to expose him to other kids in different social settings, at your house, in a preschool, at another three-year-old's party will contribute to his gradually becoming more and more comfortable and less nervous about being away from you, his emotional anchor. Again ALL kids repeatedly experience the feelings your son had as they learn to exist outside of their parents presence, nanny notwithstanding. Enjoy your boy and his perfectly normal development. You sound like great parents.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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