Childhood shyness is a common concern among parents, who fear their youngsters may lack self-confidence and lag behind in social development. But with preparation, practice and patience, most reserved children can learn how to successfully navigate social situations and build meaningful relationships with their peers. Here are 10 tips to help:
1. Start small. Expose your child to a variety of non-threatening, positive peer interactions from an early age. When they start day care or school, begin with a small class or group size if you can, until they’re ready to transition to a larger one. As group size grows, consider adult-child ratios to encourage positive peer interactions and reduce the chance of negative behaviors such as bullying.
2. Scope out settings. If possible, take your child to a new academic or extracurricular program before it begins, so they can meet the teacher and get acquainted with the setting and routine.
3. Rally support. Let teachers or caregivers know about your child’s shyness, and stay in touch throughout the year to address any problems that may arise.
4. Take the home field advantage. Encourage at-home play dates to empower your child to take social risks and open up to their peers, and encourage them to go to friends’ houses to play.
5. Set the scene. Prepare your child for social gatherings to alleviate anxiety and fear of the unknown. This is particularly helpful with random events such as birthday parties and family gatherings. Talk about what they’ll see and do so they’ll know what to expect.
6. Dress rehearse. Role-play – either directly or using dolls, action figures or puppets – different scenarios your child may encounter, such as meeting a new peer at school. Switch roles so your child can act out both sides of the interaction. Talk about how they’re feeling, and repeat the exercise several times to build their confidence.
7. Reach for resources. Read books to your child about others who overcame shyness and fear. These include Shy Charles by Rosemary Wells, Shyness by Tamra B. Orr, Dealing with Feeling… Shy by Isabel Thomas and Buster, the Very Shy Dog: More Adventures with Phoebe, by Lisze Bechtold, to name a few (all available at the Miami-Dade Public Library). Talk about the lessons in the stories and how they apply to your child.
8. Listen up. Take time to listen to your child and understand their feelings and fears. They may be upset because the setting is too loud, there are too many people or it’s too chaotic. Validate their concerns and ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue.
9. Stay positive. When your child does engage in social scenes, offer positive reinforcement. Affirm their character and personality, and avoid chastising, teasing or embarrassing them about their shy behavior.
10. Get help if you need it. If your child’s behavior persists past six months or intensifies, talk with your pediatrician to differentiate between temporary shyness and social anxiety disorder, which can hinder social development.