What to do When Your Child is Super Shy
Does your child make “shy” seem like the understatement of all time? Whether you relate because those are genes she inherited from you, or if “quiet and reserved” couldn’t be further away from who you are, you probably don’t want her introversion to hold her back.
Is He Just Shy?
Before you tackle getting your child to be more outgoing, make sure that’s all it is. Observe his interactions with others. If he passively assesses a situation before he slowly warms up, you likely have an introvert. But if that shyness is debilitating, it could hint at more serious issues. Pay attention, take some notes and bring them along on your next trip to the pediatrician.
Be an Example
Your children take their cues from you. If you’re outgoing and responsive, they’ll try to do the same. Let them follow you on day-to-day activities, to the library, grocery store or dry cleaners. When you interact with friendly conversation on errands and with family and friends, you make it look easy and natural. If you feel like they’re not quite paying attention, point out what you did. "Wasn’t it nice that Mrs. so-and-so just got back from vacation?" "Did you see the way the store clerk counted back my change?" It might be mundane to you but it’s modeling behavior to little ones.
If you send a message that her shyness is a disappointment to you, you’re telling your child she isn’t good enough. Don’t push her to be something she isn’t. You should even avoid labeling her behavior. Instead, do your best to make her feel comfortable in a situation so she can be more confident and able when she’s ready to make a move.
Rehearse a Script
While it may be natural for you to walk into a room full of people and hone in on a few friends, it can be devastatingly difficult for someone who is an introvert. Present a social scenario before you go. Let your child know what to expect from situations you know he might find stressful. How many people will be there? Who will they be? And sometimes, most importantly: where will you be? If he knows beforehand when you will—and won’t—be available, he’ll be prepared. Also try role-playing. Make a game out of who he’ll see and what he might say.
Follow Her Lead
One way to teach your child how to step outside her comfort zone is to allow her to start in her zone. If she’s a science kid who loves the museum, take a trip with another playmate to the science museum. When she’s passionately involved with something she already loves, she’s more apt to speak up and share. She may even answer questions and interact with others because she’s proud of what she knows. Pick sports and activities she cares about, and you’ll increase her confidence and create a safe environment where she may be willing to take a social chance.
Build From One-on-One Interactions
Your child doesn’t need to be the life of the party, but you do want her to have a few good friends. Help her make them. Start with play dates at your home where she feels safe and loved. Then consider other activities where your child and a friend might also interact with others. From there, move to mom-and-daughter play dates where you’ll be close enough to make her feel comfortable. Eventually she’ll be ready to go on a play date without you.
Provide Positive Reinforcement
Celebrate little wins. Whether he finally lets go of your leg at a family party or tells you he played with a new circle of boys on the playground, let him know you’re proud. You can’t turn an introvert into an extrovert, but you can let him know you wouldn't want him to be anyone other than who he is.
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Linda Emma is a journalist and freelance writer, specializing in family, parenting, and relationship topics. She has been writing for more than 20 years. She currently works at a marketing agency and Endicott College, where she provides tutoring services and sage wisdom to undergraduates.