Helping Your Shy Child Socialize

Being an introvert is a tough thing when you are also a toddler. We live in a world of shiny, charismatic extroverts, or at least, that’s how it feels to the shy person. It’s easy for us as parents to worry that our little introvert will struggle socially if we don’t intervene.

We also notice that our articulate, confident child suddenly cowers in the face of attention from new people, almost to the point where we don’t recognize him or her. It can be a bit embarrassing when our child refuses to make eye contact or say hello.

Socialization is an uncomfortable process; it’s the rare person who hasn’t experienced some awkwardness in meeting or interacting with people. Before we go all helicopter-parent on the situation, think about the following points:

  1. Stranger danger is important. Separation anxiety and “stranger danger” are defense mechanisms that are designed to protect us, so we as parents need to acknowledge that. Social conventions and manners are a work in progress and no one in their right mind is going to judge someone when their young child doesn’t say hello.
  1. Transitions are a time when kids often withdraw. Again, this is normal behavior. Drop-off at school is a great example of a time that feels uncertain. Don’t rush these situations. Instead, settle into conversation and let your children see that you are calm and this will help them acclimate.
  1. One-on-one. Meeting for individual play dates at home or at the playground is a much more low-pressure situation than the group environment your child will encounter at preschool. Come prepared with an activity that the two kids can do together and also allow them to play separately if they are so inclined. They may need time to warm up.
  1. Let them play solo. If your child is introverted by nature, allow for that rather than insisting on the opposite. They may be more self-directed and that is a good thing. Just remain available and provide options.
  1. Don’t put them on the spot. It can be tempting to urge kids toward social forwardness, but this often has the opposite effect. For a shy kid, getting asked to play the piano for the relatives is a worst nightmare come true.
  1. Note the difference between development or behavioral problems versus shyness. Some kids will withdraw altogether and this is a problem of another kind. If your little one uses shyness as an excuse to disengage, seek some professional counsel in the form of pediatrician or child psychologist.
  1. Turn down the volume with anxiety. When you see your child struggling to make friends, reach out to parents and teachers to explain what is going on. Often, other adults can encourage children and that makes a huge difference.

We often want to intervene with these types of common hitches, but really, our kids usually find their way and find their people. It’s important that we meet our kids where they are instead of pushing them toward some more desirable personality. If we talk to them, remain loving, and provide them with opportunities to connect, they will often come out of their shells naturally.

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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