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Whakamā (embarrassed, shy)

Feeling shy, embarrassed or whakamā are normal emotions and avoiding them isn't a good strategy . It's really helpful to talk about and normalise these feelings for tamariki. Here's some tips on how.
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A bit of background

Shyness, embarrassment and feeling whakamā are ‘self conscious’ emotions – they come about when we are aware of others and their potential judgement of us. Being self conscious can, in many ways, be a positive thing – it relates to the fact that we are ‘social’ beings and care about the way we interact with others and what they think.

They are normal emotions and shouldn’t be avoided, just as we wouldn’t avoid feeling happy! Avoidance of these feelings can lead to us withdrawing from activities, sulking and/or disengaging. So it’s really helpful to talk about and normalise these emotions for tamariki. In fact, feeling embarrassed is actually a great sign! It's uncomfortable, but it means we're able to think about things from other people's perspectives - empathise. Good for them (and us) to know!

Other important notes –

  • Knowing whether a child is genuinely ‘shy’ (introverted perhaps) or whether they’re feeling ‘shy’, embarrassed or whakamā in the moment will alter how you respond.
  • Embarrassment can present as introversion, but it can also present as angry or excited behaviour (to cover up embarrassment). If you think that’s the case, check out our guides on excitement and anger for some extra tips.
  • Oh, and shyness can look like worry or anxiety. Recognising the root of what we’re seeing can really help us to get our approach right.
  • One more thing – people who seem shy, can have high self esteem. They may feel good about themselves but either not like being in the limelight or have lots of humility and good judgment about times to contribute – these are attributes that can actually be real strengths!

Inspire (and try)

In the moment

If you sense a student is embarrassed or feeling whakamā, ask the rest of the class to continue, or switch to some ‘chill time’ activity – quiet reading, colouring, anything that will involve tamariki being still and calm.

Either way, move closer to your embarrassed student to show your support — or if they are showing signs of other emotions (i.e. excitement or anger) be clear with them that it’s time to relax and calm down. If need be support them with this – deep breaths will help (you and them!), and praise them as they calm down.

When there's time

The best Sparklers activities to help tamariki feeling whakamā:

Reinforce behaviours that bring calmness with rewards / encouragement / praise.

If you've got some tamariki that love to embarrass others, this can be super tricky to manage. Try our Pink Shirt Day and Kindness activities and make kindness really valued in your classroom - reward it as much as you can!

Enquire (and notice)

Clinicians often talk about unpacking behaviour, looking over what may have contributed including:

  • What preceded the shyness / embarrassment / anger / excitement?
  • What was happening in the classroom at the time – is there a lesson they could be struggling with or avoiding?
  • Are they being ‘rewarded’ by behaving this way (getting attention or what they want i.e. to leave the classroom)? Or are they enjoying the attention this behaviour brings? (i.e. laughs from classmates, a reaction from us)
  • Could something be happening outside the classroom or socially? Or could there be a cultural foundation for this behaviour (i.e. humility is valued very highly in Māori and Pacific cultures).
  • What’s my relationship like with this tamariki? Could I be contributing to this behaviour?
  • Is this a one-off or a recurring issue? Could I support this student with improving their self-esteem (as explained, low self-esteem is not always relevant, but it’s worth considering if you feel it could be a contributing factor.)

Plan (and reflect)

What behaviour do we want to see? - Being confident and calm.

  • Can we find opportunities to praise and pay attention to this behaviour?
  • What behaviour do I need to ignore (not give negative attention to) and how can I create a good ratio of positive attention? Experts recommend 10 positive comments to 1 correction.
  • What adjustments do I need to make – to my feelings, actions and the environment?
  • What information can I provide whānau and how can I include them?
  • What’s available to foster students’ strengths and self-esteem? Share our parenting guides on: ‘How to help kids manage worries’ and/or (a nice one to start with!) ‘How to help kids feel good and have fun.’
  • Alongside this you might want to run whānau evenings around ‘big emotions’ – if you’re in Christchurch, here are some of the organisations involved in this work (they run all the parenting groups and workshops!) and they may be available to offer a free parent group or programme in your school and/or come speak at the event (they regularly will and often for free!). You could also contact us!

Review (and follow up)

Take a big deep breath - you're amazing for having found this information and read to here. Just know that.

We love the Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) approach and encourage working in this creative and strengths-based way. We’ve adapted their ‘Encourage Positive Behaviours’ model for Sparklers. and recommend familiarising yourself with this and as your go-to for further analysis and as a matter of fantastic practice!

Encouraging positive behaviours via a classroom and whole school approach… how cool is that?!

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