Episode 29: Help! My child is shy! With psychologist Natasha Tiwari

by | Jul 17, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Natasha Tiwari is an award winning psychologist and education strategist, and founder and CEO of The Veda Group. At the age of just 20, she began her career in education as the country’s youngest “Teach Firster”, tasked with raising the standard of learning in one of London’s most deprived schools.

Natasha has created all of the methodologies and frameworks used at Veda, combining psychology, neuroscience and pedagogy to support clients in achieving that powerful triifecta of academic prowess, truly unshakeable confidence and mental wellness. Her private clients include royal and celebrity family clients.

She is frequently invited by schools and corporations to consult on how to optimise and accelerate the learning process, and on how to secure resilient mental health. Her thoughts on learning, education and mental health are routinely featured in The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph, The Times, Huffington Post, Patient UK as well as GQ, Glamour and Marie Claire. She has also lectured on her methodologies at UCL and the University of Oxford.

“I’m a psychologist and I also spent a short time as a classroom teacher. As my career progressed, I found that one on one I was able to get these really exponential results working with children and I guess what I didn’t realize at that time but I understand now is that I was then unconsciously competent about a methodology that I was using grew into the way I work at the Veda group.

We have now about 130 teachers around the world using the methodology that I’ve created which combines the best of theory around learning but also child development and also child psychology and we will work with families when they’re trying to win places in certain schools or if their kids grow older when they look into universities. If their children are not achieving the grades that they think that their children are capable of because they’re not getting the right attention in class. If they think that their child has something about them that makes them genius and they want that to be nurtured or if their child is facing something like a special educational need or mental health difficulty and so they also need a little bit of extra attention just to make sure that they’re being nurtured correctly.

Kids do learn more or less in the same way,  but the thing that makes every child different is that they’re wired differently so while they might learn comparably or comparatively similarly they can process information when they integrate their learning experiences into their sense of who they are and who they want to become, that’s the thing that makes every child different and that’s why when we look at a child for the human being that they are and they’ll be considered they’re learning from that perspective I find we can get a significantly better result.

There’s a lot of research out there that says things that our personality traits can be “coded by genetic make-up and genetic expression”. Things like being shy are less common than their alternative if I think what you said about being ostracized though it’s that other piece that we evolved to be social animals and so if you’re a little bit different were evolved to treat the person who’s a bit different as they don’t belong and if you already feel a bit different and people make you feel like you don’t belong then that has a spiral effect which I think can be quite dangerous for children.

I think with different hats on. Sometimes I’ll think with my psychologist hat on. Sometimes I think with a teacher hat on or entrepreneur hat on, because it’s a business. But maybe that’s why I see it that way. It’s so easy for me to think of people who have been called shy or socially awkward. And I think those are two terms that are getting used interchangeably but have changed the world. So immediately Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook has just changed the way that I think almost every person on this planet interacts with their surroundings. Marissa Mayer of Yahoo. She’s spoken outwardly about the fact that she considers herself to be shy.

I think shyness is interesting because especially in children, I think it’s true also for adults, but especially in kids, it presents really interesting me because often when somebody says that they have a shy child or somebody else says to that parent “Oh, your child’s so shy”. The parent is like “what are you talking about? Because they’re not shy at home. It’s only when they’re in a classroom environment or amongst big groups of people who they don’t necessarily know that the shyness presents itself. What I see more often is that when parents will say that they’re worried. They’re being told that their child is shy. But it’s not that that worries them, what they worry about is that, it seems to be accompanied by some form of anxiety or stress around being around other people and that that’s now affecting self-esteem. It’s more the knock-on effect of not understanding how to navigate the shyness than the shyness itself

I agree that that’s the point at which that it becomes problematic. I think there’s a piece for the adults that are supporting a shy child. To know that there’s something around empowering that child to not buy into perhaps the stories that exist in their heads. The thing for me to characterizes natural shyness is a natural tendency to fall into feeling self-conscious when you’re around people that you didn’t know or an environment that is hard to navigate. And then also anticipating rejection in a much bigger way than is necessary. And I guess that’s why anxiety will play into being shy because it just makes you more likely to feel anxious. And if you feel that anxiety often enough, that will become chronic. If you can teach a child before it’s become something that’s inducing anxiety. But yeah being shy is their superpower because they see the world a little bit differently because they move a bit slower. In social environments, they’re observing before they make a noise. And that, they’re more honest. That’s also a really interesting thing. Shy kids are always more honest.

That child is empowered to believe that yes, whilst I might find it harder to put my hand up in class or ask for help or say when someone’s upset me, there were other things that I’m really good at. I’m saying I’m the child, I am able to draw upon my superpowers and my strength to give me a bit of bravery when I need it in the environments that make me feel nervous will make me feel scared or made me feel a bit lost or make me feel different.

I like to think it’s true that we live in a society now where people are a bit more aware of the words that they use. And because we have this glorification of people who are a bit out there and a bit unusual, like Elon Musk that people now started to feel that if you’re different than you have something to offer that the world doesn’t, but those words are also really wounding. They wound you at a place, which is really deep and where you’re probably already a bit raw. And if you were somebody who’s like battled with a sense of feeling different your whole life, because X, Y, or Z is not. It doesn’t come to you in the way it does for so many other people. It’s a vicious thing to hear. And again, for a child to hear things like that, like “just stop being so shy”. It’s akin to saying, “don’t cry, dust yourself off, get over it”. We would never dream of talking to a child like that in this day and age, but people did all the time, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years ago.

Even in daily life, we’re just labeling. We’re labeling things all the time. That’s how we moved through the world. So, it’s unrealistic to say that, but I think being cautious at how you use the word, talking about it as if it’s something as if it’s a word that doesn’t necessarily come with good or bad, it is what it is. And then having a conversation with other people who work with your child, for example, that might be teachers, tutors. If you have people around you and like family and friends and ask them to not make a big deal of the shy piece.

Once you’ve got people making comments like that, it’s almost impossible to control the narrative that’s being created. And then you lead to a place of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I would be really careful about that. I think another thing that parents naturally do, it’s not even just parents, it could be their older siblings too. And anyone who really cares for the child that we’re talking about is they’ll want to rescue the child when they see the child struggling. Because, of course, it’s like this nurturing instinct takes over and you don’t want to see your child suffering.

I think it gets more complicated when we’re talking about things about their mind. I think that with a smaller child, they would welcome you rescuing them. They would welcome it in a heartbeat, but you don’t want a child that becomes reliant on you to help them in scenarios, which they find tricky. I don’t know if you know about the idea of a growth mindset, it’s become very fashionable recently.

In a nutshell, having a growth mindset means that you are in a position really to be learning more learning faster and becoming closer to self-actualizing than someone who doesn’t have a growth mindset. I think a growth mindset as being like a muscle and it sits on a spectrum. Like you have lots of muscles in your body. Your leg muscles might be really strong, but your arm muscle’s not. It could be that you have a growth mindset for in academic terms, it could be that you have a growth mindset for maths, but you definitely don’t for literacy. It can exist at any point on the scale. You can have some, something of a growth mindset, or you can be completely closed, or you can hugely have a growth mindset. And, but we’re increasingly seeing in the research on education that when children have a growth mindset around their learning, they do better. They improve faster, they approach the challenge with more positivity rather than fear or avoidance. But if you get into a pattern of rescuing, I think it massively hinders your child’s ability to learn how to navigate in the world. And then the social scenarios, which they struggle in are only going to become more and more complex as they get older.

The first thing around celebrating all facets of their personality, I would draw upon the fact that they love the gymnastics, that they are good at it. That when it’s hard, they keep going, they try hard, they work hard, they overcome their obstacles. I would draw upon other things in their life too. So if your little gymnast is also a dancer, I would like to up on the fact that she moves to music so well, and she’s got a sense of rhythm.  And if she works hard at school and she’s good at a certain subject at school, I would draw upon her efforts in that subject, if there are subjects, which she struggles with, that she still works hard. I would bring that up. If her teacher always comments on the fact that she’s a treasure to have in class, I would bring those things up. That’s about celebrating all aspects of her personality, even though it might come down to the fact that even at home, she didn’t take care of her siblings and she looks after and she looks after her younger siblings, or maybe if she’s playing with other children, she always does the right thing, like celebrating all facets of who she is and not getting, I’m not getting tunnel vision about the fact that she’s a gymnast and she has a situation she now needs to deal with.

I would say it’s about practicing. It’s almost like a version of exposure therapy. If there are lots of family parties that you go to, go get there a little bit early. You’re part of the party building up rather than walking into this big explosion of people and noise and dynamics. If you’ve got like this big and with a big gymnastic show coming up, are there ways to practice doing it small and then building up? Maybe that could start with practicing in front of mum and dad. Maybe that then means practicing in front of the family, of maybe five or six people. Then maybe it means asking the teacher if maybe she might be interested in doing a shorter session where perhaps some of the kids can do their piece in front of each other. And so you’re building up your child’s muscle to perform in front of so many people, but you’re doing it gently. You’re not doing it in a way that’s going to massively overwhelm his or her nervous system.

If you were doing this gradual increases in ability to handle a challenging social situation and to handle the feelings that come with that anxiety, eventually, potentially you’d want a six-year-old who becomes an 18-year-old and is not scared to give speeches to big groups of people, rather than that, that 18-year-old, perhaps starting their journey of embracing their shyness at the age of 18. And if I think about incremental progress, you never know who your child is going to be. One day doesn’t limit the possibilities. So the impact they might be able to make on themselves, but also people around them because they have this label of shy.

Have you heard about the theory of highly sensitive people?  Approximately one in six of us and just experiences the world at a higher octane. With more emotion. You’re more likely to notice if the lights are brighter. If the sounds louder, we are also more likely to feel other people’s emotions. You’re more likely to be able to call into the nuance of a scenario. Same as shyness. If it’s not nurtured correctly, it will 150% be the thing that destroys you because you’re literally more sensitive to everything, but if it’s nurtured correctly, it will be your superpower because you see the world in a way that most people don’t and you experienced the world in a way that people don’t. And I was thinking before we came on, I think that there’s probably an interesting correlation between having experienced shyness in your life and being highly sensitive.

Before we spoke, I listened to a couple of other episodes of your podcast. And you had said about you to others about their experience of shyness. And I was thinking about the fact that I am speaking to you today. And I entirely chuckled cause I was like, I’m not shy at all. And then I thought about it. And actually, as a child, I was, and I don’t think you grow out of these things because like I said, I think there’s a genetic predisposition. I do think it’s biologically informed. And I see it in myself in certain scenarios that will be scenarios that I go into.  And I noticed the way that I navigate it at the beginning, I’ll want to sort of like size up where I am and what’s going on before I throw myself in once I’ve started myself.  I guess that hint of how a shy person navigates the world, it’s still with me. And I just say that to say, I wouldn’t say that you grow out of shy tendencies, but you can come to a place where it’s not the one thing that defines you, but it is a part of your toolkit in how you maximize your opportunity, how you maximize on how you get the best out of life, how you become cognizant of how you think, and you’re able to appreciate how you think rather than thinking, this is the thing that I have, that’s a problem or mental disability or something I need to overcome.

I wouldn’t identify as shy anymore, but I think I once definitely was identified as being a little shy and I am for sure an extrovert. I have for sure seen children who are extroverted and shy. I think that comes down to that classic case of when you have a child and some people will say he’s not shy at all. And then others will be like, what are you talking about? He’s so quiet and shy that I think often when you get that case where it’s that disconnect where a child appears to be quiet sometimes and other times, very comfortable being loud chatty, enjoys being around lots of other people.  That’s what you’ve got going on. The problem is I think is that people assume that to be shy means that you’re an introvert actually, to be shy as all of the things that we talked about before. But to be an introvert is completely different to be an introvert means that you need to be alone, or at least you need to have big amounts of alone time to recharge your energy. Whereas an extrovert recharges their energy when they’re around lots of other people, or not even necessarily lots of other people or just other people. And they really buzz, when they’re part of that dynamic rather than looking in on the noise.”

Email natasha@thevedagroup.com.


Find out more about the Shy and Mighty Mob for kids – coming soon! 



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