Every parent wants their children to have a happy social life filled with friends. However, a lot of shy children find it difficult to make the first step. It can be heartbreaking to see your little one alone in the playground, or struggling in social situations, but don’t worry: there are steps you can take to help them along. The key is to help them work with, rather than against, their natural temperament.
Here are six tips to help shy children warm up around others.
- Evaluate Your Child
Many children go through spells of shyness when they encounter a new developmental transition (for instance, starting school or a new after-school activity); this is completely normal. However, shyness can also be one of the symptoms of anxiety.
It is therefore important to look out for other symptoms such as excessive worrying, nervous movements and problems sleeping. If you have questions about whether your child’s shyness could be linked to anxiety, don’t hesitate to talk to your GP for some peace of mind.
- Help Your Child “Stretch”
For a child who doesn’t have an anxiety problem, shyness is probably just a normal part of their temperament. This personality trait can show up as early as infancy: some children automatically smile at an unfamiliar person or grab a new toy, whereas others turn away or take a while to warm up. It’s not something wrong, it’s who they are.
Instead of focusing on “changing” shy children, reframe it as helping them “stretch.” Look for opportunities where you can use your child’s natural strengths — such as being a great listener or a creative thinker — to help them grow more comfortable around new people or environments.
- Don’t Force Them
Don’t force your child to engage when they aren’t ready. Saying something like ‘Come on, don’t be shy’ can actually push your the other way. Labelling your child as “shy” can make them feel like they’re doing something wrong — and this can make them even more timid. Instead, create a comfortable environment that lets them develop their social skills naturally. For example, invite new friends to visit at your house for the first few times, instead of taking your little one to their house.
- Set Up One-on-One Play dates
Play dates with two or three others can often overwhelm shy children. Try instead to set up one-on-one play dates with a child who has similar interests. Allow your child to play with some of the toys alone, and then gently try to strike up a conversation between the children by saying something like, “Did you know that James likes boats too?” Then back off and let your child take the lead.
- Prepare Your Child
Before you head off to a new situation or environment, anticipate your child’s uneasy feeling and take some time to prepare them for what to expect. Give them some pointers for making friends to help make the situation easier, like finding a similar interest. Remind them of a time when they were in new situation, got through the initial discomfort and actually had fun. You may also want to arrive early to new locations, such as a new school or sports activity, and let your child explore the surroundings by themselves before all the other children arrive.
- Let Others Know
If you aren’t the only one caring for your little one, it’s important to bring everyone up to speed. Tell your child’s nanny or babysitter about how they are slow to warm up to new social situations, and ask them to give them time to adjust. Advise them also on how to help your child adjust, such as having another adult engage them in something and then backing off.
Most importantly, remember not to make your child feel guilty for what comes naturally to them, even if you don’t share the same tendency. You want children to be in a place so they can grow and thrive as who they are.