Shy or quiet: what’s the difference?

Sometimes as parents we worry that our child is shy but maybe they are simply quiet. How can we tell the difference and encourage our child to engage well with others? Here are some thoughts on that from The Growing Child, the newsletter distributed by Lifestart.

Shy or Quiet: What’s the difference

There is a fine line between “quiet” and “shy.” Shyness implies inadequacy, an inability to deal with people or situations, an inability to communicate thoughts or feelings. The major difference between “shy” and “quiet” is the child’s comfort and happiness. Is he alone or is he lonely? Does he prefer not to say anything, or does he want to express himself but is afraid or unable to do so. Does he have positive or negative feelings about himself?

The shy child is self-conscious and fears others’ evaluations or rejections. The quiet child is probably making evaluations of others. (Ask his opinions. His insight might surprise you!) The shy child is unable to reach out to others, take risks, or approach new situations. He holds feelings and emotions inside and may be unpopular and uncomfortable around peers.

Most people are naturally shy to some degree. We don’t rush into new situations, talk to every stranger we meet, or share our every thought, idea, or emotion. However, the quiet child has the potential of crossing the line into shyness. If he is not encouraged to communicate and does not express himself, he could develop self-doubts, real or imagined rejection, misinterpretation of others’ comments, or lack of communication.

It is important for parents to observe and know their child. If the child is quiet, parents can communicate verbally to reinforce the child’s self-worth and to provide a supportive home life.


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Encouraging our children to be responsible

One of the challenges of living with social distancing is that we need everyone to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Below are some tips on encouraging our children to become responsible from the Center for Parenting Education. This article was posted before our current Covid19 lockdown but many of the ideas are very useful.

If you have young people who are struggling to see why they should stay at home here is a great video from Foróige Bundoran/Ballyshannon Youth and Family Support Programme where young people tell us who they are staying home for

The impact of words

One of the more subtle ways to promote responsibility in your children is through the language you use. By communicating your expectations that your children will act responsibly, you can create an environment that encourages them to be accountable for their behaviors.

Be alert to “trigger words”

To avoid taking responsibility, children sometimes use phrases such as:

  • “It wasn’t my fault.”
  • “He made me do it.”
  • “I forgot.”
  • “It was an accident.”

When you do not accept these comments as an explanation for behavior, your children learn to take responsibility for their actions. For example:

“I forgot to feed the dog.”

Instead of saying “Okay, don’t let it happen again,” say “The dog is hungry. You need to feed him now.”

“It wasn’t my fault that Thomas’s papers fell. He left them too close to the edge of the table.”

Instead of saying “I’m glad you didn’t do it on purpose. Be more careful next time,” say “I know you didn’t do it on purpose, but you are responsible for what your body does. You need to pick up the papers.”

Give information positively

thumbs up language of responsibility

By noticing improvements and progress rather than commenting on failures, your language can communicate a sense of growth and hopefulness. You are giving the message that you believe that your child is capable of and willing to learn.

Rather than saying “When will you remember what you have to do to set the table?” you can say, “I’m glad that you put the dishes and napkins on the table. Soon you will put the cutlery there too. That is part of learning to set the table.”

“Catch your children being good” by praising positive behavior. Children want to be noticed and appreciated. If they are not recognized for behavior that is responsible, they may try to gain attention through behaviour that is not acceptable.

Use the language of “supportive care”

Instead of rushing in to help your children when they are having a problem, ask them if they want help or if they want to handle the situation themselves. If they want help, you can ask them what kind of help they would like.

Because this type of offering gives them the chance to solve their own problems or to decide in what areas they could use assistance, it encourages children to take more responsibility for their own care.

For example, instead of immediately offering to assist your child on a writing assignment, you can ask whether they want to do it themselves or whether they want help.

If they want your involvement, do they want to brainstorm ideas with you, want help organizing their thoughts, or want you to proof-read their paper?

Use Negotiable Rules

There are certain rules that parents will maintain as non-negotiable; these are often related to safety issues and there is no wiggle-room. But as children get older, more mature and as their judgment improves, certain rules can be shifted into the negotiable category.

By engaging your children in a process of negotiation, you are handing over to them some of the responsibility for following the rule. The result is that your children will more readily internalize the rules and gain self-discipline.

For example, as children get older, bedtime on weekend nights is an issue that might be open for discussion. Having had input into the decision and agreed upon the bedtime during the negotiation, your children are more likely to responsibly abide by the decision.

Employ Humor

The benefits of humor:

  • reduces tension,
  • helps children to see a situation from a different perspective,
  • increases cooperation,
  • builds stronger relationships between people.

In Summary

If you can picture your children as being responsible and treat them as if they already are, you will enhance their movement in that direction. Having a clear picture of how you want your children to be and believing they are capable of becoming that way, will increase the likelihood that they will rise to meet your vision and expectations.

You can get more articles, tips and resources at

Good communication skills for families in lockdown

Family life can feel very intense at the moment with all the family at home all the time. Little niggles could become big irritations. So it might be good to start having family meetings – not to tackle any major problems but just to improve communication within the family and help everyone to be positive and solution focused. Here are some tips from the Centre for Parenting Education on holding family meetings.

What is a Family Meeting?

You may have heard people talk about holding family meetings and wondered what they were or why families would schedule formal times to meet and talk. At first glance, it may appear to be unnecessary.

However, after considering the fast-paced and hectic lives that many families lead, the benefits of being more intentional about finding time to connect becomes evident.

Family meetings are discussions that involve all family members who are concerned about or affected by a particular issue. Often the topic relates to a problem that the family is experiencing, although family meetings can also be used to plan time together or to try to prevent problems from occurring.

These meetings provide a time that members can focus on being a family.

The Benefits/Purpose of Family Meetings

family togetherness family meetings

  • Because family meetings give everyone a voice, they build children’s self-esteem. The children are treated like valued members of the family whose ideas are listened to and considered.
  • Children learn that family members are interdependent, that they are all connected, and what each person does can have an effect on everyone else.
  • The skills children learn in family meetings, such as compromise, openness to other’s ideas and cooperation, will help them to deal effectively with problems they encounter in other situations and social settings.
  • The family becomes more cohesive and family closeness increases because children are then more likely to identify with the family. By involvement in family decision-making and solving family problems, children see themselves as having responsibility for making a good family life.
  • By participating in family meetings, children learn to take the perspective of the whole group and to think of what is good for the family as a whole, not just themselves.
  • Family meetings counterbalance the hectic lives that today’s parents and children lead; the technological distractions of the computer and video games, the extra-curricular activities, school and work pressures all pull family members in different directions.

    Family meetings serve as a centrifugal force that grounds families and encourages connections and identity. They can send a message that family time is important and is a priority in your family.

  • Family meetings provide a platform for conflicts to be addressed and for problems to be resolved in a way that feels fair to everyone. You as the parent will set the limits of what is acceptable, but everyone has input.

    Children learn to examine situations, propose solutions, evaluate results with guidance, support and demonstrations from you and their older siblings. They begin to see themselves as capable of finding solutions to problems.

  • Family meetings provide the opportunity for information to be shared equally with everyone


Forms of Family Meetings

Family meetings can take the form of one-time events or they may be held on a more regular basis. If your family meets regularly, your role initially will be to provide nonjudgmental leadership. Over time you may decide to rotate leadership. Invite everyone in the family who is concerned about or affected by a particular issue to participate.


Setting a Positive Tone

family talking togetherFamily meetings are most effective and enthusiastically received if they do not occur only to handle crises or to distribute jobs and discipline. Other purposes may be to:

  • plan weekly schedules/calendars so everyone knows what each person will need to do and what commitments have been made.
  • share information that will effect family members.
  • have fun together.
  • make family decisions about vacations, recreation or other activities.

To add to a constructive atmosphere, you can:

  • include refreshments.
  • include an opening activity that highlights positive family events or achievements or affirms individual family members. Example – best thing I did today, trait I like about myself, (or about someone else in family)
  • set an agenda so that everyone knows what will be discussed.
  • establish ground rules, such as:
    • no interruptions
    • no put downs
    • everyone is listened to
    • respect each other’s opinions
    • everyone has a chance to contribute/


How To’s of Family Meetings

You may want to have a more formal arrangement to your family meetings no matter what the focus. If the purpose of the meeting is to discuss a specific problem, it is helpful to use the following prescribed steps:

  • Decide who is involved.
    Tell them which issue you would like to discuss and why.
  • Each person states his perspective and viewpoint about the problem.
    This is done without interruption and without judgment. By going around the table, each person is given the opportunity to speak and the parents are prevented from doing all the talking.
  • Ask each person for suggestions to solve the problem, again with no interruptions.
  • Write down the suggestions.
    Discuss the proposals and consider their feasibility until all agree on solutions that seem fair to everyone.
  • Develop a plan of action.
    Make a list of who will do what and when. You can even have everyone sign the agreement to give a sense of importance to the process. You can post this agreement as a reminder.
  • At the end of the session, set a time for a follow up meeting to evaluate how your plan is working.
  • Have a follow up meeting.
    During this meeting, you can create a positive perspective by recognizing progress even if adjustments need to be made.

Some Additional Tips for Success

  • Value everyone’s input.
  • Treat all members as equals.
  • Listen to everyone and encourage each other.
  • Avoid letting one person dominate who might think he has more rights than other members.
  • Keep the family meeting short – with young children, the meeting should be no longer than 15 minutes.

Over time, as your children see that they are respected and listened to, they will begin to appreciate the value of family meetings. You may even find them requesting family meetings when they have issues they want the family to address.

You can find more tips and resources  from the Center for Parenting Education here

Fifty Key Messages – talking to your teenager about a problem

Talking is healing: 

Your older child might be happy to talk to you about things that are bothering them.  However, sometimes they feel unable to talk to their parents.  Encourage them to talk to someone they trust.

Emotional Well-being:

How a young person deals with the ups and downs of everyday life can have an impact on their emotional well- being. Here are some important things for both parents and young people to know and understand:

  • Encourage your young people to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Everyone deals with issues or concerns in a different manner. What seems like a big deal to one teenager may not be to another.
  • A young person should appreciate the importance of ‘time out’ and relaxation to promote positive emotional well-being.
  • Be familiar with local, specialised services.

If you want to explore more Key Messages to support your parenting see