How to Help Your Shy Child

Most children feel shy from time to time; particularly in social situations which are unfamiliar or those in which the child feels like he or she is the focus of attention. As the child grows, the degree of shyness as well as how and when it is expressed may change.

Being cautious and slow to warm up in new situations may be adaptive and allows the child to withdraw temporarily and gain a sense of control in an overwhelming situation. On the other hand, children who are very shy may lack social skills, have few friends and be lonely.

Here are some things you can do to help your child.

Encourage your child to talk about their emotions and try to figure out in which situations they feel particularly shy. Try not to label your child as “shy” or to compare him/her to other children, even when talking to other adults. It is often helpful to tell your child about the time when you felt shy and how you became more outgoing. Also tell your child the benefits of being less shy (i.e. enjoying social interactions).

Teach your child specific social skills. For example, encourage him or her to smile and say “hi.” You can also practice various social situations (i.e. making a friend at school) or role play such situations with dolls or puppets.

Gradually expose your child to different social opportunities. For example, arrange play dates and invite guests over to your home. Encourage your child to get involved in activities with others; engaging in sports or hobbies will allow your child to build confidence and interact with others who share similar interests.

Some aspects of shyness are rooted in personality; whereas others are learned from one’s family and/or cultural environment. Demonstrate the behavior you would like to see in your child: often smile and say “hi” to others and engage in social activities with friends and family. When on a playground, talk to children your child’s age and try to engage your child in the conversation.

It is important to be patient with your child and not to push him or her into a situation in which your child does not yet feel comfortable. Praise your child every time he or she demonstrates desirable social behavior. Through practice and positive experience your child will become less shy.