Helping your shy child

It’s impossible to tell if a toddler’s shyness is something that will remain with her through life, or if she’s just behaving like a typical child of this age. So, instead of worrying about her shyness, or looking for a solution to it, try to find ways you can help her to have good feelings about herself and others, and to feel happy about interacting socially with other adults and children. With support, even naturally shy children can grow into friendly, confident adults (although that shy child will probably always remain somewhere deep inside). You can help your child reach this goal by:

Accepting Her Shyness

This can be hard if you’re a naturally outgoing person yourself, but is very important. Your child is a unique individual and can’t be expected to feel and behave in the same way as you. If you consider her shyness to be a shortcoming and express dissatisfaction with her lack of social skills, then you can cause your toddler to withdraw further. Instead, simply let her know that you love her just the way she is.

Don't Attach A Label

If you describe your toddler as “shy” when you’re talking to or about her, then this label is likely to stick in her mind and she’ll come to accept it as a fact. This could then encourage her shyness, even if it isn’t inborn. Later, she might use the label “shy” as a way of avoiding uncomfortable or difficult social situations. Don’t point out or praise more outgoing children - you’ll hurt her feelings and damage her self-esteem. And of course, a lack of self-esteem will only make her shyness worse.

Encouragement

Don’t push your child into social situations, but gently encourage her to participate in group activities, and help her break the ice if necessary. Initially, she might find it easier to mix with slightly younger children as she won’t feel threatened and, indeed as the “big girl” might feel more confident. Practice. Why not try some role play? Maybe her teddy or a doll is on the edge of the playground, wanting to join in a game, but is afraid to try. Ask your toddler for advice and consider some good suggestions for joining in. Your child will be able to use this material if she is in a similar situation later - children are great imitators.

Preparation

Some children are particularly sensitive to new situations, and this sensitivity will manifest itself as shyness. Get your toddler to playgroup, parties, or pre-school a few minutes early so she has time to be acclimatized and be involved in activity when the others arrive. If you do arrive late, then be sure to tell your toddler before you walk in just what you’re going to do and what she can expect.

Remember, your child is still very young and will probably grow out of her shyness. Meanwhile, if you see her looking longingly at a group of children at play, and she seems to want to join in, but shyness is holding her back, then try giving her a few suggestions. Don’t push her forwards before she’s ready, but offer a way in, for example, “Why don’t you go over and see if those other girls would like to look at your new doll?” Or if she’s very timid, then offer to go with her and hold her hand for a while.

If shyness continues once your toddler has turned three, and if you feel it is interfering with her activities, discuss the problem with your doctor. There are counseling options and early, gentle help can successfully help with extreme shyness in young children.

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