Coaching Shy Children

Children display shyness for all sorts of reasons. You will meet some children that show signs of being shy because they just woke up from a nap and others that struggle with being separated from their parents. When working with elementary-aged children, coaches must be compassionate and patient in managing children with mounds of energy and varying degrees of shyness. 

Shyness is when a person feels some degree of awkwardness, worry, tension, and even anxiety because of something new and unfamiliar. Since the Parisi Pee Wee class will be many children’s first organized and structured class, coaches and staff need to be prepared with various strategies to welcome these future speedsters into the speed school. The Parisi system has worked with grade-school children for decades and has encountered many shy young athletes. Children between 4 to 7-years-old attending your Parisi Pee Wee class will need different strategies than the older kids.

Parisi coaches should be familiar with the many reasons for severe shyness. They include socio-emotional causes, developmental disabilities, academic deficits, previous negative experiences, and simply nervousness over a new experience. Remember that your intake form should provide a spot for guardians to write any relevant information, including clinical or developmental deficits and history. It is essential to teach your staff how to address questions regarding children with different disabilities and special needs. Guardians often call to ask if movement-based classes like Parisi Pee Wees can help with specific needs and conditions. While extensive research supports movement-based classes to assist children with a wide variety of needs, Parisi coaches should not be presented as clinically trained to lead children with special needs.

Additionally, movement therapy is widely accepted to help young children with many different developmental needs; therefore, guardians might expect a Parisi class to provide a clinical experience for their child. Clinical therapy is not the intention of the class; it is best to refer parents to an occupational or pediatric therapy center. 

Finally, do not get hung up on the age of the child. While this class is labeled for children 4-7 years old, you will find that even some 6 and 7-year-olds are not a good fit for your Parisi program.  

Managing a Shy Child in Your Class

Shyness is a disposition that you might encounter even when a child is considered to be outgoing.  Children can display, and children may become shy simply from wariness, exhaustion, anxiety, or being self-conscious about a new environment. Parisi coaches should be perpetually positive and display “open” body language and eye contact.  Your relationship with all the children attending your classes is built on trust, comfort, safety, and fun.

On days when a shy child is in attendance, it is essential to set up a welcoming environment but also establish boundaries. Parisi Pee Wee classes are for children to attend without relying on a guardian. While stepping stones encourage a child to acclimate into your class, they must ultimately take that class without a partnering adult or older sibling. Stepping stones offer the child the control to choose how to “let go” of a hand. Make sure the guardian understands that once the child lets go and decides to join class, they can not be hovering in the doorway or standing in the class space. 

The following strategies are often effective with reluctant children:

“Would you like to sit right outside the door with your mom? When you are ready to let go, you can sit right here (place a dot right inside the door), but then your mom will remain outside the door.”

“Will you hold onto my XX (it can be a toy) and sit on this wall? You do not have to participate, and I might need you to give the XX when I need it. But I need someone to watch over XX until then.”

“Would you like to be a super-spy? How about you spy on the class from here? I will check back, and you can tell me what you see when class is over.”

“Let me tell you a secret about the end of this class. (Then show them or tell them the name of the game and the toy you might use. You can then ask them to hold onto it for you.) We are going to play a game called “baby animal rescue.” Will you hold on to these for me? They have to stay here while you are seated, and I will come back to get them. Keep them safe for me.”

“I know you are not ready to participate yet, but can you test this blueberry for me (Blueberry= BOSU)? I need someone to jump on it. Try it five times, and then can you sit on it until I need it or you decide to join the class.”

A shy child is invited to sit in your training space and watch your session, but not with their parents. If a child needs to sit with their parent/guardian and is not ready to ‘let go’ of their hand, they should watch from the lounge or viewing area. Once a child is allowed to bring their guardian in class, they will expect it whenever they want their parent/guardian. 

Positive reinforcement is key. Show the child authentic joy and that you are happy they are there. Even if they are not participating because of their reluctance. Introduce them to other kids in the waiting area or the classroom. This is important because once they decide to join your Parisi Pee Wee class, you will introduce them during The Huddle section in period 1.

“We are so happy you are here and excited to have you participate/train/run/workout with us when you are ready.”

Parisi coaches must not force themselves on a child or exude negative emotions, body language, or feelings if the child is not ready for the class. Parisi coaches need to remember that shyness is not permanent. 

Here are some tips to assist coaches when dealing with a child displaying shyness.  

  • Do not be offended by a child’s shyness.
  • Do not coddle or ‘baby talk’ to the child. Treat them respectfully, and let them know they are genuinely welcome at any time.
  • Do not force a child to participate.
  • Model confident behavior.
  • Introduce them to another child in class.
  • Ask them a question. Tell the child they can think about their answer and get back to you if they don’t respond.
  • Thank them for coming even if they do not participate in the class.
  • If the behavior happens for weeks, let the parent know they should return in a month or two. Often this trick works, and the child will ask their parents when they will return to the speed school even though they never participated in class. 
  • Once a shy child joins class, ensure they follow the same rules as all the other kids.
  • Praise outgoing behavior and thank them when they do a great job.
  • If the shy child changes their behavior weekly, continue to use the same strategies and rules.  
  • Be aware that once a child is monopolizing your time in class, you need to have them take a break, so you do not lose control of your class.
  • Stickers as a reward for fully participating children are always a great incentive. These can be given to all the speedsters if they don’t end up on a ‘dot over dots’ (= time-out spots).