If your child prefers their own company, you may wonder if they’re shy or introverted. The two terms are often used interchangeably but are actually two separate traits.

This article examines the definitions of both shyness and introversion, looks at signs of each and suggests actions to take if you’re worried.



What Is Shyness?

According to the APA, “shyness” is “the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people.” In children, this can look like undesired social avoidance. A shy child may linger on the sides of the playground instead of joining in with the other kids–even though the desire to engage is present.



What Causes Shyness?

Like many traits, shyness is a combination of both nature and nurture. Thalia Eley, a professor of developmental behavioral genetics at King’s College London, is an expert in the interplay between genetics and behavior in mental health outcomes.

Eley’s simple explanation is that shyness is around 30% genetic, while the remaining 70% is environmental, but genes and environmental triggers work together to produce complex human behavior.

Here’s an example…

A child may be genetically predisposed to being shy. On the playground, she feels socially anxious and isolates herself from other children. Over time, this behavior trains the child to feel more comfortable being alone since that is their everyday experience.

What’s the key takeaway? While shyness has a genetic factor, the environment matters significantly more. And because such behaviors are psycho-social, they can be improved with the right mental health techniques.



What Is Introversion?

Many associate the word “introverted” with the quality of shyness. But while shyness and introversion can be correlated, they are not the same.

Introverts tend to be quiet and reserved, preferring to explore their inner thoughts and feelings over interacting with the external world. Introverts also tend to recharge their natural energy by spending time alone. (Extroverts, on the other hand, recharge by spending time with others.)



How Do I Know If My Child Is Shy or Introverted?

Shyness — also known as behavioral inhibition — is not quite the same as introversion. Introverted kids just like spending time alone, happier to curl up with a book or build a Lego tower than to join the neighborhood kids in a game of tag. On the other hand, behaviorally inhibited (or shy) children crave social interaction but paradoxically find those interactions to be a source of stress.

Does your child desire to interact with other children but also worry about doing so? In this case, they may be exhibiting shyness.

On the other hand, if your little one plays with others when the mood strikes but also prefers quieter activities from time to time, they’re probably introverted.



What Should I Do If My Child Is Shy?

If your child’s shyness is a source of distress, it’s best to nip it in the bud and consider using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques to address their timidity.

CBT theorizes that changing our perspective and how we think changes our actions and emotions. A child struggling with shyness can learn skills to help them manage their feelings rather than allowing feelings to control their behavior.



Avoid Labeling Your Child

Lastly, be careful not to label your child as either “shy” or “introverted.” Children always rise to the level of our expectations. If your child knows that you view him or her as “shy,” they’ll likely model behavior reflecting that expectation.


If you think your child’s behavior goes beyond being shy or introverted, or your feel your child may be suffering from anxiety or depression, please contact your child’s pediatrician or seek the help of a mental health professional.

If you are an adult struggling to balance life as an introvert in a world that seems built for extroverts, this article 4 Tips For Adult Introverts might be of interest.



If you believe your child experiences excess stress or worry in social situations, or leading up to them, we can help. Contact us at 303.843.6000 and together we’ll determine whether your child may benefit from child therapy or perhaps parent coaching is the answer. You can request a free phone consultation by completing the brief from below and a member of our team will contact you. After we have an opportunity to understand your or your child’s circumstance, we’ll be able to recommend a therapist on our team. If our practice is not the best fit for your family, for whatever reason, we’re happy to offer recommendations to providers in the Denver metro area. We look forward to hearing from you.