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It's Not Easy Being Shy

Tuesday, January 18, 2005; Page HE03

"Nurturing the Shy Child: Practical Help for Raising Confident and Socially Skilled Kids and Teens" by Barbara G. Markway and Gregory P. Markway (Thomas Dunne Books)

In this scale-model variation on their 2001 adult social anxiety primer ("Painfully Shy: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life"), Missouri-based husband-and-wife psychotherapists Barbara and Gregory Markway make a persuasive case that children's extreme shyness is disabling but highly treatable. Such shyness can range in form from a reluctance to join in play with other kids to throwing a tantrum at the prospect of attending a social event.

To their credit, the Markways place do-it-yourself steps by parents before professional counseling and even further ahead of drugs. But they offer plenty of resources for further help if it's needed, including questionnaires and checklists that could provide useful background to a counselor.

While the Markways assure parents early on that we are not to blame for our kids' social anxiety, they argue persuasively that we contribute to the problem. In a valuable chapter titled "Laying the Foundation," they detail some of the ways: We overprotect our kids, we don't listen to them and we visit our own unresolved anxiety issues on them.

While they mainly focus on social anxiety, the Markways also include chapters on more-serious problems including selective mutism (choosing not to speak in certain situations), school anxiety (which can be so extreme that kids refuse to go) and conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. They also suggest that their strategies for developing social skills might also work for kids who are not particularly shy or anxious.

It's easy to dismiss books like "Nurturing the Shy Child" as the kind of stuff that everybody already knows. But the Markways make a strong case that you don't really know what your kids are going through, and that presuming that you do may make matters worse.

-- Gregory Mott

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