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How to Help the Shy Child

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


Sometimes you’re ready for your child to venture forth into kid society but she has trouble making a move. She may be just naturally slow to warm up. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if in addition to being reserved your child is also unsure of herself, then she needs some help to become more confident. Reserved but confident people are respected. Shy and uncertain people are often overlooked.

Two steps will help you as the parent of a shy child.

First, provide your child with a scripted response he can use in the most common situations he will face. He can be guided to nod his head and say “Hi” or “Hello” when meeting other kids or adults. He can practice saying “My name is….” when asked. Low-key, supportive practice at home will help boost his confidence when he needs to respond to strangers.

Second, ease the way in social situations by introducing your child instead of making her wait for a cue. Say, “Hi, Mia. This is Clara. Would you like to play in the sandbox with us?”  Play with Clara and Mia in the sandbox, modeling ways to talk about the play and share toys. Withdraw your interaction when Mia and Clara start to play without you. As your child becomes more capable, help her to initiate her own introduction and invitation to play, but be ready to guide gently if she gets stuck.

If you know your toddler or preschooler is shy, start now to give him the tools to manage social interactions. Don’t wait until the first day of school.

In addition, be careful to not label your child. Labels have a way of sticking. So don’t make the excuse, “Toby is shy.” And don’t fret with your child in public or laugh at him in your own nervousness or scold him. All of this makes the problem stronger,  both in your mind and in the mind of your child.

Experts suggest that parents model outgoing behavior so kids can see how a person introduces himself to someone new, finds a place for himself in a group, and strikes up a conversation. So do a quick self-check of your own social behavior to ensure you’re comfortable demonstrating to your child what social confidence looks like.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.