Some children who are considered shy are highly sensitive, meaning very aware of and strongly affected by their environment. Others are introverted, meaning that they need time away from other people to renew their energy. Some children are so absorbed in their own projects and ideas that they’re simply less interested in social interaction.
So let’s say, for the purposes of this article, that you’re reading this because you want to support your child to become more comfortable in social situations. Hopefully, you appreciate your unique child, who probably notices social nuances that other children miss.
But it’s natural to worry if your child seems to feel anxious with other people. We all want our children to make friends easily, to feel comfortable asking questions at school, to speak up for themselves. The good news is that most kids can learn to manage social anxiety so they can connect happily with others, enter new groups, and speak up for themselves. They just need a little extra support.
Responsive mothering helps sensitive little ones learn to calm themselves and manage their reactions. That allows their heightened sensitivity to become an asset, because it makes them more responsive to the needs of their peers and better at negotiating group situations.
Acknowledging what he feels, without negative judgment, helps him to feel good about himself. Giving him the impression that there is something wrong with him will just make him feel worse about himself, and therefore more insecure. Empathizing with your child will also help him develop empathy, which will enhance his social skills and help him connect with others.
That means being friendly to strangers, offering help to others, and modeling a relaxed attitude about social interactions of all kinds.
Kids often need to be taught to make eye contact, shake hands, smile, and respond to polite conversations appropriately.
Role play with your child how to notice and respond when another child initiates, how to join a game at the playground, how to introduce themselves to another child at a party, and how to initiate a suggestion.
All children need the confidence that they can handle what comes up when parents aren’t around. For instance, every child needs to know how to respond to affronts with phrases like “It’s my turn now….I was still using that…..I don’t like it when you say that….I am not going to play with you if you say hurtful things to me.” This is especially important when peers tease or bully.
Instead, acknowledge his worries and point out that he can overcome his fears. For instance,
One very helpful approach to social anxiety is to accept it as a part of normal life that affects most people, reassure yourself that you’re ok anyway, and focus on others rather than yourself. For instance, remind your child that she doesn’t have to be interesting, just interested, and teach her to ask other kids questions and listen to their answers.
Socially anxious children need downtime, of course, especially if they’re introverts. But they also need plenty of opportunities to practice their social skills. And remember that empathizing doesn’t mean being over-protective. Applaud every little step he takes on his own.
Some children like telling jokes or showing off their new ability for Grandma, but many kids hate it. Enjoy your unique child without making him feel like he’s only valued if he performs.
Some parents worry if their child isn’t the life of the party. But what’s important is that your child feel connected, like she has someone she can talk to, or someone he wants to play with at recess. It’s not necessary to have a lot of friends, just a few good ones.
Instead, teach your child that he or she should always be with you, or with a teacher. If her special adult is with her, your child doesn’t need to be afraid of strangers. Once she’s old enough to begin walking home from school by herself, you can begin discussing how to keep herself safe.
Is your child shy? What steps have you taken to help overcome this shyness?