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sarahsugs's avatar

Tips for a painfully shy child?

Asked by sarahsugs (2898points) February 21st, 2007
I teach 3rd grade. A student in my class is terribly anxiety-ridden about any situation in which people might be looking at him. He refuses to sing our class songs (even when everyone else is singing too) and won't do chants or hand motions. He rarely raises his hand. Today he had a total meltdown (crying, refusing to talk or move, hiding his face) when it was his turn to read his writing for the class. I didn't force it, and he calmed down, but was very shaken and still refused to talk, even when it was just the two of us. I would love some ideas for how to help him overcome this fear of attention on him.
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15 Answers

gailcalled's avatar
You need to talk to a pro. Any child psychologists on staff or available for a consult? His behavior sounds more troubling than just being shy. Poor little guy...and I assume that you have a take on his home situation..he didn't get that way in a vacuum. Good luck.
sarahsugs's avatar
Yes, I forgot to say I have referred him for counseling and though our part-time counselor is sadly overbooked she is working on helping the family get outside help. I was hoping more for things I could do for him on a daily basis...maybe someone who could speak from personal experience as a once-very-shy child...
peggylou's avatar
I have a grandson with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of Autism. Your student sounds a lot like him. My grandson refused to sing songs or do hand motions and he hates it when people look at him. These children cannot handle such attention because the attention over-stimulates them. They can't handle it. And this will cause a meltdown. He is in kindergarten and his teacher is aware of his diagnosis and knows the symptoms. Such awareness has helped my grandson to slowly overcome his over-stimulation in some cases. But it is a very slow process. This may not be your student's problem, but it sure sounds the same.
sarahsugs's avatar
Thanks. I looked online at the diagnostic criteria for Aspergers and I'm pretty sure he would not be diagnosed with it based on that criteria. The impairment in social functioning is definitely there, but the other things (repetitive motions, adherence to routines, obsessed with one topic/idea to the exclusion of others, lack of facial expressions) don't seem to apply. Obviously, though, I am not an expert. I will mention that possibility to our counselor and/or whomever he ends up seeing for counseling outside of school.
skfinkel's avatar
How does he act at home?
nomtastic's avatar
i'd front-load him with what is going to happen each day. (i know you have less than no time at the beginning of the day, but this might help.) so sit alone with him and walk him through everything that will happen that day. that doesn't mean that he will participate right away, but it can take the edge off of some of the anxiety. also, when it's time to share, perhaps you or a friend (does he have friends?) will share a painting/paragraph to make him feel successful.
sarahsugs's avatar
Yes, he does have friends. In fact, during the aforementioned meltdown, 6 or 7 kids were eagerly volunteering to get up with him and help him read his story. (Didn't have any effect. By then he was too freaked out.) I agree that front-loading him is helpful. I will do that more.
sarahsugs's avatar
How does he act at home...obviously it's hard to have a complete picture. He has a sister, one year younger, who is cheerful and outgoing and confident, who his mother said frequently upstages him. He had been crying every night (I recently learned) saying he couldn't do his homework, it was too hard, he didn't understand it, etc. (FYI: Now he does his HW 4 days a week with me after school. I help him understand the directions but that's it. He does it totally independently, seems excited to finish, and hasn't cried once. On the 1 night he is supposed to do it at home, he always has an excuse for why it's not done. I'm meeting with his mom again about this and everything else on Monday.) I think at home he mostly plays his video games. His mom said she tries to entice him to do other activities - take him to the park, to Chuck E. Cheese, bike riding, etc. - and he always says it's boring. Then when they go back home he says he's bored there. When she asks him if he wants to do a certain activity he always says "no." Consequences at home involve mostly the taking away or returning of his video games. I can see his mom is trying hard, but is at a loss for how to reach him. She said she is confused by how different he is from his sister.
sarahsugs's avatar
His dad seems to be not really in the picture. I haven't gotten the full scoop on that yet.
peggylou's avatar
My grandson's teacher wrote down a schedule for the school day (my grandson can read)and pasted it to the top of his desk. Once he knew what was coming next, his improvement was very noticeable!
lostinspace's avatar

How did this work out? He sounds very much like my child with asperger’s. There are a wide range of ways of being asperger’s. Did the school evaluate him for that? Any helpful insights now?

sarahsugs's avatar

In brief, things worked out for this child pretty well on the whole. No, our school did not evaluate him for Aspergers, mostly because like most public schools we do not receive adequate resources and counselors’ and psychologists’ time is reserved for more extreme cases. However, our resource specialist did observe him several times and helped me to think about strategies. I also reached out actively to his mom and talked about ways to help him be more functional and less anxious at home. It turned out that he was crying about his homework every night, saying he didn’t know how to do it, etc, so he started doing his HW with me every day after school. After two or three weeks he needed no help from me, and when we added some other students to the “HW club” he became the leader who kept everyone on track and showed the most competence overall. During the school day I used some Aspergers-friendly strategies such as giving him plenty of advanced notice about times when he would have to speak in front of others or times that the schedule might change, and for the most part helping him adhere to the same schedule every day. After reading an article on fixed versus dynamic views of intelligence, by Carol Dweck, I stopped trying to boost his self-esteem by telling him he was “smart” (even though he is) and started praising him whenever he tried hard. This focus on effort rather than innate smartness seemed to give him more confidence over time. On the advice of another teacher I started a “stamp book” with him, and whenever he tried his best on anything he got to put a stamp in his stamp book. He won little prizes every 10 stamps, of his own choosing, that incorporated our relationship and his academic competencies, such as a special lunch with me or his own digital timer to time himself for parts of his homework. The competence that he felt in HW Club and the concrete evidence of his competence in his stamp book seemed to gradually take over. He started talking more, and smiling more, and raising his hand multiple times a day. Other teachers told me they noticed his changed affect in the hallways and on the playground. He seemed much happier inside himself and with school.

I am no longer his teacher and I rarely get the chance to talk to him, but I hear from his new teacher that he struggled with the transition to 4th grade but is improving through a combination of outreach to his mom, consistency, and reminders of his success last year.

BBawlight's avatar

I was always painfully shy, so I can relate.
I bet they feel like nobody will believe them, that everything you say about how “I really care” and “I want to help you” are just some kind of facade. They might not feel accepted by other kids and think that they are really mean because of the way they look at him.
They don’t feel like they can trust others because “it’s all fake” is how they feel about it. Although he may not realize it like that, the feeling is there. Just as a baby doesn’t know the name of an object. It’s still there, they just can’t identify it.

They need someone who they feel like they can trust wholeheartedly. Someone they don’t feel is faking smiles around them. There’s going to be that doubt with him at first, but it will get better with time. Talk with him and ask questions, don’t talk to him like he’s a little kid, either. I hated that when I was little. But don’t go too harsh on him.

This sounds a lot like how I was when I was his age, but I may be wrong and someone may have already beat me to the solution.

talljasperman's avatar

Let him be the conductor for a few minutes for music class… It worked for me. The way people just knew what to do depending on what my hand does… volume up volume down just by changing my wrist.

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