Dear Dr. Comer:

How can I help my daughter overcome being so quiet? She never has anything to say. I realize that I, too, am not good at conversation. But it makes me very sad that she doesn't have any friends.

She is in high school and she shouldn't always be home doing puzzles or reading. She has no confidence. She is pretty, but has a slight handicap. I don't expect her to change into an extrovert, but how can she acquire a better gift of gab? O. G.

Dear O. G.:

People are quiet for many reasons. In some cases, it is wise and useful to help them open up and interact more with other people. If they have the skills to handle themselves in school, work and play situations but choose to be loners and are reasonably content, it's probably best to leave them alone.

Some people are quiet by temperament and yet, in their own way, are very much involved with the people, ideas and actions around them. They are reasonably happy and content doing their own thing, alone or with one or two other people. They receive joy and gratification from little tings. They don't need or want a lot of activity to feel gratification. They may be better off then those of us who need others and things a great deal to feel alive and stimulated.

You mentioned that the fact that your daughter doesn't have any friends makes you sad. First, is your daughter sad and generally unhappy? Second, is it true that she has no close friends in or outside school? Some people have one or two very close friends whom they relate to only in a school or work situation, and you may not be aware of such friends.

You want to be certain that you aren't placing your needs and concerns on your daughter. Even if that's the case, it's not a serious problem. Perhaps you feel that you missed out on many experiences because you were too quiet and you want a better situation for your daughter. I'm simply suggesting that you might think of yourself as much as your daughter as you address this problem. In fact, your opening up some might help your daughter.

When people are unhappy and missing out on experiences and opportunities they would like to enjoy because they are not good at conversation and making and holding friends, they have a problem and need help. The main cause is a lack of confidence which is usually due to a poor self-concept.

Children who are treated poorly by their families and others, or have severe disfigurements have a realistic basis for a poor self-concept. Yet many such people overcome these feelings. Some people have low self-concepts even though they have a slight handicap or no handicap at all. These people often magnify their own unrealistic negative feelings about themselves and those they presume others hold about them.

Some people have been overprotected and have not experienced little rejections from parents, teachers, friends, and others to the point that they can't bear the possibility of rejection. This often happens where there are no brothers or sisters. Brothers and sisters often trade insults with each other and yet they know that they love and care about each other. Youngsters with handicaps may also be overprotected and have similar problems with fear of rejection.

The way many people handle the possibility of rejection is to avoid social situations where rejection might occur. Because most jobs and other opportunities today require more social interaction than in the past, avoidance isn't a good strategy.

I suggest that you discuss your concerns with your daughter. Try to find out if she is happy and has an acceptable level of confidence. Ask her whether her handicap may be troubling her. If you do come to the conclusion that she has a problem, you should find a way to help her, and perhaps help yourself, too.

Start slowly. Are there YWCA, church or other group programs designed especially for quiet or shy people who would like to be better conversationalists? There are theater workshop groups that are designed to increase poise and confidence.

You might select for yourself and help your daughter select organizations and activities that will expose both of you to people at a rate which is comfortable. But you don't want to be so comfortable that you don't have to reach out more. If your daughter's avoidance is an effort to stay away from very real drug, sex or other problems at school, you should help her think about how to involve herself in the healthy side of school life.

"Shyness" by Philip G. Zimbardo can be found in the library or bookstores and may be helpful to you. It provides exercises a person can use to overcome shyness and social discomfort. If the problem persists, you might want to seek professional counselling.