Public speaking is many people’s worst fear; with all those people watching and waiting it’s easy to want to shrink into the ground. But it’s a vital skill and important experience from kindergarten show-and-tell to board meetings. But how do people overcome that fear?

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For shy, nervous girls, everything can feel as daunting as a group presentation. Whether it’s talking to one person in her class or fifteen members of her troop, it can be scary to put herself out there. So how can we, as caring adults, mentors, parents, and troop leaders, support girls who haven’t yet found their voice? How can we get our girls to stop worrying about taking up too much space, being too loud, and being their real selves? Here are five ways you can help each of your Girl Scouts break out of her shell:

1. Understanding the Source

One of the first things we can do to support “shy” girls is to understand the labels that they may have been given—either by their peers, their teachers, or even us. To fully be there for our girls, we need to be able to understand the difference between introversion and shyness, while also seeing the amazing benefits of both.

Shyness often stems from a fear of negative judgement—whether it’s in words or looks. Introversion, on the other hand, is a “preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments”. While a girl can be introverted and shy, they don’t always go together. To tell the difference, think about her reactions to crowds, parties, and other social situations: is she afraid of being judged for her clothes? Does she think that she might stumble over her words and get laughed at? Is she worried someone thinks something negative about her so she prefers to not say anything at all? If so, your girl is dealing with shyness. Whereas, if she isn’t afraid of social situations but is seemingly drained after dealing with them, she may be an introvert. Both of these labels have blurry lines between them, but it’s important to know where your girl may lay on this spectrum, and support her accordingly.

2. Give Her Space to Thrive

In many ways, shy girls do not need our help to find their voice—they already have one. Instead, focus on providing them with spaces that are safe and inclusive. Letting each girl have a say in troop decisions, lead activities, or even just be the first person to share during a troop meeting: all of these are ways they can express themselves comfortably while pushing their limits.

3. Share Your Own Experience

In a world that values extroversion, it can be tough to be a girl who doesn’t feel comfortable speaking out or speaking up. For girls with fears of being judged or deal with social anxiety, you can be there for them by sharing with them a time that you struggled with the same feelings. Talk to them about how you overcame that fear eventually, or how you didn’t and how you are still working on it. Simply knowing that they are not alone is a huge help in getting girls to overcome their fears.

4. Build her up

Another great tactic is working with your shy girls to build self-esteem and self-image. Give positive reinforcement when she does something challenging or pushes herself, and steer your compliments away from compliments having to do with looks, or anything else she is born with: hard work and growth is more important than talent. Compliments like, “I think it’s really brave how you led that game of kickball today”, “I really appreciate how you took the initiative and handed out snack at the meeting”, “I’m so proud of you for having that tough conversation with your friend, it couldn’t have been easy. You’re pretty brave for doing that.” All of these compliments root your words in her actions and show her the value of putting herself out there and gaining confidence in social situations.

As her self-esteem grows, she will become more confident about advocating for herself. Many shy girls may keep quiet about their needs and wants because of fear of judgement. As her adult, you have the power to help her ask for and find what she needs to grow in all aspects of her life. Encourage her to be respectfully assertive, so she can express herself in a way that is true and genuine to who she is.

5. Accept her for who she is

But what if, no matter what you do, she is still shy? What if her voice still shakes when she’s in front of crowds or she still struggles to talk to people she doesn’t know well?

The simplest answer to these questions is to support her as she is, and to understand that shyness and introversion aren’t necessarily bad things. Every time you worry about her because she hangs back at a birthday party or doesn’t speak up during troop meetings, think about how much she must be observing. For every time she does speak, think about how much more weight her words carry because she is finally choosing to share. Shy girls often grow out of much of the social anxiety they deal with throughout adolescence, and they come out the other side as women who know what it’s like to not be heard. They grow to be women of empathy, who understand that words matter.

Supporting a diverse group of girls takes patience, work, and a little strategy. Whenever you see a shy girl, remember that you have the tools to help her become a confident woman, no matter the route she takes to get there.

What to do next:

  • Looking for a related read? Check out this article: How to Help a Shy Teen Build Self-Confidence.
  • From school success to parenting advice, Girl Scout’s Raising Awesome Girls blog is home to plenty of resources to help you build girls of courage, confidence, and character.
  • How have you helped shy girls open up? Share your story in the comments section.

Gabi Reyes-AcostaGabi Reyes-Acosta—Gabi is a Program Manager for Girl Scouts of Northern California, where she works to create experiences and programs for girls to enrich their Girl Scouting experience. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California, Gabi has been a member of the Girl Scouts family since she was a Daisy (Girl Scouts of Central California South!). In college, Gabi found her passion for helping girls develop their leadership skills while having fun as she worked several summers as a camp staff member at Camp Bothin, and again during her years serving in AmeriCorps in Oakland. A lover of all things outdoors (there’s nothing better than songs and stories around the campfire), Gabi can usually be found in any Bay Area park, wilderness, or forest with her dog close behind.