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Do you have a shy or timid child? Parenting Coach Katie Malinski, LCSW, role plays with Kate Raidt on how to help a shy child.

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.

Ever wonder why babies seem to come out of the womb with a personality already there? Psychologists Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas found that most babies are born with one of three ways of reacting to the world.  Even though they came up with this scheme a long time ago, it still holds true for your baby today.

The three temperaments describe a child’s usual pattern of interacting with the world.

Everyone loves the Easy baby, who is adaptable and easy to please. This child gets taken along everywhere and enjoys all the attention he gets. He adapts pretty quickly to changes in schedules and can sleep anywhere.

The Difficult child is fussier and more demanding. This child cries more and might be hard to figure out sometimes. If this is your baby, you might catch yourself thinking twice before accepting an invitation for a day at the park. Your mother-in-law might have lots of advice for you about this child.

The Slow-To-Warm-Up baby needs time to adjust to unfamiliar people and situations. He might be more particular about sticking to a schedule and might have a harder time with an unfamiliar caregiver, even if that’s Dad. This baby knows what he likes and wants to stick to that, please!

Chess and Thomas found that most babies fall into one of these categories  (with most children being Easy babies and the fewest being Difficult). These patterns of interacting with the world appear to be hereditary, which means that either you or your child’s other parent may share your baby’s outlook. Because temperament is inborn, these patterns of behavior stick with a person throughout life.

This means a couple of things for you.

First, your child comes with a preset way of behaving that you cannot change. You can adapt and as your child gets older, you can help her work with her natural inclinations in ways that are helpful. But you cannot make your child more cheerful or more bold or more thoughtful if that’s not who she is inside.

Second, knowing that your child has these preset patterns helps you anticipate his reaction to situations. You can ease your Slow-To-Warm-Up child into new situations. You can learn how to head off the Difficult child’s tantrums. You can teach your Easy child to be more cautious around people he doesn’t know. You cannot change your child’s tendencies but you can work with them.

And, finally, since these patterns last throughout life, you also have a basic temperament. You may be naturally shy and will need to work harder to get your child linked up with a playgroup. You may have a short temper that you’ll want to control so you can model good behavior. Or you may have a tendency to just go along with things and will need to work to be more intentional. Noticing your own preset ways of reacting can help you become a better parent.

Think about your own temperament, your partner’s temperament and the temperament you see in your child. Just knowing about these can help your family get along.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.