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Activities to Help Kids Be Less Shy

by Christina Schnell

Shyness means that a person has extreme anxiety in the face of new experiences, people or surroundings. For children, this can mean hiding behind your legs whenever another person approaches them, extreme reluctance to participate in group activities or draw attention to one's self are just a few ways shyness affects behavior, explains psychologist Dr. John Malouff who specializes in developmental psychology. Genetic predisposition to shyness can play a role. And, while being more outgoing can be challenging, it can help improve a shy kid's social skills and confidence in new situations.

Practice Introductions

Children notice the behavior of their parents, so if you set a good example of politely greeting strangers or engaging in chit-chat with the clerk at the grocery store in your child's presence, she gets the message that safe social exchanges do not have to be a terrifying experience, explains Dr. Malouff. When you are out at a restaurant, compliment the server next time on her hairstyle or hair ornament, and then say to your child, "That hair clip would look really pretty in your hair" in an appropriate way to engage your child in this conversation, without forcing her to speak.

Discuss Possible Scenarios

Shy children often experience "thinking traps" that cause them to assume the very worst of an unfamiliar situation, explains NYU Child Development Center's Dr. Amy Krain Roy. Discussing these fears and appropriate ways to address them -- regardless of how illogical or unlikely they may seem -- not only can ease a child’s mind, the discussion can also give him a sense of how to handle the situation without avoiding it entirely. For example, talk with him about several possible things that might happen on his first day of camp or school – and do this long before he is anxious about them -- so that he has a chance to rehearse positive outcomes in his head.

Observe New Environments

Even if the scenario does not directly involve close social interaction, exposure to new environments gives children practice at adapting to new situations, explains Dr. Malouff. Going to a new place, meeting new kids and a new teacher is a lot for a shy child to take in all at once. Instead, practice going to new places, and let her observe kids on the ice rink, in gymnastics class or at swimming lessons. This gives your kiddo the opportunity to see what to expect, and she can see the other children enjoying themselves without the added pressure to participate -- just yet.

Facilitate Spontaneous Play

Shy children find it difficult to walk up to another child and then ask to join in a game, even if the shy child has met that child before. As a parent, you can help facilitate such interactions while modeling appropriate social skills. For example, if you see another child doing something your own kiddo enjoys at the park, introduce your child and mention that your child also enjoys playing whatever game the kids are playing in the park. Ask whether it is okay if your child plays, too. Then, take a few steps back and let them play. As Dr. Malouff explains, the more practice children have interacting with others, the more comfortable they will come.

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