Raising a Shy Child
Your child is shy. Making new friends does not happen quickly or easily for him. He experiences social discomfort in crowds and around unfamiliar people. It’s not that you want to push your child to be popular, but you do want to help your child become socially comfortable and to foster quality friendships. How can you help your child reach these goals?
*Understand that some things that may look like shyness aren’t shyness. Some children prefer to be observers rather than participants in childhood games and rituals. Other children are introverted, which is to say that they are generally not outgoing regardless of whether they are in a large, unfamiliar crowd or with only one person (a beloved family member): they are more internally focused (focusing on their own thoughts and feelings). These children are not experiencing social discomfort.
*Understand that shyness can be a result of nature (an in-born personality trait) or nurture (some life experience has taught your child to be shy). Shyness can be a normal part of child development and is not necessarily a problem. It’s up to you to assess the degree to which your child’s shyness adversely affects his life. Assess this by observing him and asking him questions about how he feels.
*Arrange play dates with one child that has a lot in common with your child. When your child becomes comfortable in that setting, periodically add a second child to play dates. As your child’s comfort grows, continue increasing the size of his play dates.
*Coach your child on social skills. (For example, “If Tommy’s mother says you are wearing a cute outfit, please say ‘thank you’ to her.”) Do not provide social responses on your child’s behalf; however, you can prompt him to give a response if he does not have a ready response when needed. (For example, if Tommy’s mother asks your child how he likes the State fair this year and your child hesitates to answer, you can prompt by saying, “Would you tell her what you told me about why this midway is your favorite?”)
*Ask questions to draw your child out and provide him with ample affirmations. (For example, on your child’s first play date with Tommy, if the children are not initially interacting, you can ask your child, “Would you tell Tommy about your neat dinosaur collection?”)
*Enroll your child in a school with small class sizes, where social development is included in the curriculum, and where parents volunteer in the classroom.
Shyness can fade (but not necessarily disappear) over time. If your child’s shyness has not decreased significantly by age seven, assess to what degree your child’s shyness is adversely affecting his life. If shyness is not having a significant adverse affect, continue with the tips above. If significant adverse affects are occurring, have your child speak with a counselor. Your child may suffer from a social anxiety disorder: selective mutism.
By following these steps, you can help your shy child to become socially comfortable and to foster quality friendships.