Nature of Boys: Successfully Shy

Use the familiar to help new Scouts adapt to their environment.

As Pack 44’s join-Scouting night kicks off, Cubmaster Janet sends the prospective Cub Scouts outside to play games with a couple of den chiefs. They all go except for one boy—a fourth-grader—who refuses to leave his mother’s side. Janet tries to encourage the shy boy, without success, giving up only after embarrassing him in front of the group.

How could Janet have better handled that situation? And, more important, how can you work with shy kids in your pack or troop? To learn the answers, we talked with Dr. Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Ind. Carducci, who refers to himself as “successfully shy,” estimates that 40 percent of kids are shy—making shyness about as common as brown hair. Moreover, shy people aren’t introverts, he says. “Shy kids want to be with others. They just have difficulty doing it.”

Alert Scout leaders can help kids overcome their shyness. Carducci offers four techniques:

The Factorial Approach

Change exacerbates shyness, and a join-Scouting night is all about change: new faces, new activities. “When you bring these kids in, you’re changing many, many factors at the same time,” Carducci says.

Using a factorial approach, though, you change just one factor at a time. “If they’re going to work with new people, that’s the factor that you’re going to change,” he says. “So you have them do something that’s old.”

Meaning familiar. At a local join-Scouting night, play games the prospective Cub Scouts already know such as duck, duck, goose. Or when Webelos Scouts cross over into Boy Scouts, review the knots they learned for the Outdoorsman activity badge instead of teaching them how to splice rope.

The Cohesive Cohort

Carducci’s second technique advises that you keep boys who know one another together in what he calls a “cohesive cohort.” Rather than breaking them up with four or five different older guys, he advises, keep them together in that one group. “Then, it’s familiar people doing something new.”

Of course, the cohesive cohort already exists as a natural part of Scouting. In a Cub Scout pack, second-graders from the same homeroom typically form a Wolf den. In a Boy Scout troop, boys who cross over from the same Webelos Scout den typically form a new-Scout patrol.

Some leaders view these natural groupings as cliques that they should break up. But though it’s important for Scouts to get to know boys beyond the den and patrol, that can happen only if they stay in Scouting long enough to get acclimated.

The Buddy System

The cohesive cohort works when boys join Scouting in groups. When a single shy boy appears at the Scout house door, consider Carducci’s third technique: assign him a buddy to show him around.

“What the buddy can do is introduce this person to other individuals, so he’s the social facilitator,” Carducci explains. The buddy should be well connected in the unit and someone the new Scout already knows—the den chief who worked with the boy’s Webelos Scout den or just a successfully shy older Scout who knows what being the newbie feels like.

Wait and Hover

When all else fails, Carducci says, just leave the shy boys alone—or with their moms—at a join-Scouting night. Some kids need more time to warm up in an unfamiliar environment. Carducci calls this technique “wait and hover.”

But he emphasizes that you can’t wait too long. “It can work as long as there are some periodic attempts to bring them in so that they’re not just standing there by themselves,” he says.

While Scouting can exacerbate shyness, Carducci says, he also believes the program represents a great place for shy kids. “The kinds of things we tell people to do to deal with their shyness are the things Scouts do already. A big part of overcoming your shyness is letting go of this self-focus and being more focused on others. That’s the core of Scouting.”

On the Web: You can learn more about the Shyness Research Institute


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