• katiemaddocks

Is your child shy, anxious or a perfectionist?

All of these are reasons why a child may be acting shy or unconfident in new places or around new people. The difficulty is understanding the difference between them and when shyness has become a larger issue.

I have heard from lots of parents recently that their child is struggling with the transition back to school, suffering with anxiety or acting out in anger when encouraged to do something that they are not ready to do – sleep in their own room or to go into school on their own. From a parental point of view, it can seem very frustrating to see your child look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders and not enjoy the things or do the things that we think they should be at that age.

It is worth looking at each of these terms individually:


To be shy means to be nervous or timid in front of new people or in new places. It may look like:

  • Being nervous about going to new places or not wanting to go

  • Hiding behind you until they get their confidence up

  • Wanting to get accustomed to their surroundings before taking part

  • Going quiet or not quite themselves

Anxious / social anxiety

To be anxious means a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something. The

NHS labels social anxiety as “a long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations”. You can see that it is stronger than shyness. It may look like:

  • Avoidance of certain activities and social situations

  • Constantly worrying about something bad happening

  • Finding it difficult to enjoy activities for fear of being watched or judged

  • Avoiding eye contact with people, low self-esteem

  • Having strong reactions to anyone who tries to encourage activities

  • Physical symptoms – racing heart rate, feeling sick, sweating, shaking, panic attacks


Perfectionism is defined as the need to be or to appear perfect, holding extremely high standards for yourself. It can be viewed as a positive thing with traits of hard-working,

striving for the best and not giving up. But on the other hand, being a perfectionist can actually be detrimental to a child’s mental health. At this end of the scale, it may look like:

  • Not wanting to take part in activities unless they know how to do it perfectly

  • Not wanting to make friends in case the children don’t like them

  • Having extreme reactions to school for fear of not getting it completely ‘right’

  • Not seeing mistakes as part of the learning process

  • Taking a long time to complete a task to ensure they get it right or avoiding doing the task completely

Do you see how all three can be coined as 'shyness', when really they are separate things? Having read the article, how has this changed your view on the behaviours your child may be showing? I'd love to hear what you think.

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