Social Circles: Encourage Confidence in Your Shy Child

Help your child overcome shyness with the following suggestions

One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is watching your child struggle in any way. Although our instinct is to swoop in and save our children from any discomfort, there are some obstacles that they have to overcome on their own.

Seeing signs of shyness can cause parental anxiety over social development. Timid children are often reserved about interacting in class or approaching potential playmates. Wanting your child to feel comfortable, included, and accepted among their peers is normal, but there’s only so much you can do to facilitate that. However, you can take steps to guide and support your shy child to help them develop confidence and find their voice in social situations.

Overcoming shyness

Shyness is usually a natural personality trait or a symptom of anxiety or fear. Big life changes such as joining a new child care program or meeting new people can lead to children feeling out of place and shy about drawing attention to themselves. Shyness is a normal part of childhood, but there are things you can do as a parent to help your child feel more comfortable.

Warm-up slowly

Change is difficult for people of all ages but particularly for a timid child. Help by creating a stair-step approach to socialization whenever possible.

For instance, invite a potential playmate and their mother to your home for an initial play date, and provide structured activities or play ideas. If that goes well, invite them over and encourage the children to entertain themselves with your supervision as you socialize with the other mother. Once your child is doing well with that, meet somewhere like a park or play space. The key is to take incremental steps that allow your child to feel comfortable as they try something new.

Be present but don’t intervene

There’s a fine line between being available and being involved. Your child draws comfort from your presence, and that’s a good thing. However, if you’re always stepping in to facilitate or to save your child from feeling awkward, you’re not giving them the time and space to socialize independently. Don’t speak for them or interrupt if you know what they’re trying to say; let them try.

It’s not easy, but reassure your child that you’ll be there or that you’ll stick around until they’re comfortable in a new drop-off situation and encourage them to go play. Small social successes will help them build confidence when seeking out playmates on their own in the future.

Prepare beforehand

With some children, shyness is caused by the fear of the unknown. Prepare your child by explaining where you’re going, what will be happening, who will be there, and what the expectations for the day involved.

It’s also helpful to practice conversation starters, such as telling someone their name, asking a child if they want to play, or saying hello.

Role-play different scenarios to help instill confidence about an upcoming outing.

Share your own experiences

Help children understand that everyone experiences a little social uncertainty from time to time. Talk about occasions where you felt shy and how you overcame that or how you make new friends. Also, model outgoing social behavior; talk to people in public, and point out to your child how nice it can be. New social situations often feel intimidating – the key to success lies in pushing past that. Help your child learn that skill.

Young children are often shy due to their inexperience with the world and the people in it. Try not to worry about it too much, but do present chances for your child to socialize, provide the support and space for them to do so independently, and share your own experiences with them as an example. With patience, support, and practice, your child will develop the confidence necessary to be an active participant in the world around them.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.

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