All kids have different temperaments and personalities some are very confident and adventurous, while others may be slow to warm up or inhibited. A child who is inhibited socially may withdraw or talk less in social situations, attempt to avoid environments that heighten their anxiety or feel anxious in unfamiliar settings. Over time, some kids feel more confident socially and learn ways to cope with experiences they find challenging. If your child’s shyness is impacting on their ability to interact with peers, here are some ways that may gently support your child to be more socially confident.
Tell them that it’s okay to feel shy
Validate your child’s feelings. Tell them that it’s okay to feel shy and that all kids (and even adults!) can feel shy at times. What they are feeling can be a normal part of growing up. A child who feels like there is something wrong with them is less likely to approach social situations with confidence. When a child feels accepted and loved for who they are, they are in a better position to learn ways to overcome their shyness.
Role model and practice social skills
Your child may feel particularly shy in unfamiliar environments – for example, a birthday party or starting a new year at kindergarten/school. They may cling to you, watch kids instead of playing with them or withdraw when peers approach. Support your child by practicing with them what they can do in social situations. Some children can feel overwhelmed when faced with the idea of socialising with peers; however, practicing what they can say and do can take some of the stress away from interacting with peers. This may be different for each child and also depends on your child’s age, developmental level and the areas where they lack confidence. For example, if your child hides behind your leg in social situations, role model at home how to greet peers or initiate/enter play – ask “can I play?”. Use everyday social situations to practice these skills.
Build confidence through encouragement and praise
Children generally respond well to praise. Hearing that they have done something well and made you proud can be a great motivator and can boost their confidence. When you see your socially shy child demonstrate something that you have been rehearsing at home (e.g. greet a peer), take the time to notice and praise them for it. Remember that change takes time. For a child who is shy, they may not suddenly jump from avoiding social situations to being the life of the party – that may not be who they are anyway! Remember to reinforce the positive steps that they do make.
Speak positively around them
Kids are great listeners and can be quite switched on to what their parents say about them. Be mindful of the words that you speak in front of them, especially if people comment that they are shy or look like they lack confidence. Make an effort to comment in such a way that focuses on your child’s strengths and tells your child that there is nothing to feel ashamed of.
Organise activities to develop social skills
Giving your child the opportunity to develop their social skills in small groups and in an environment where they feel most comfortable can be helpful. Having peers come over can support their development of friendships, and for the older child can enhance their sense of identity and self-esteem. For a younger child, play dates with kids of a similar age with activities where your child can take the lead or knows well, can help them to play and communicate with peers better.
While it is normal to experience some level of shyness at times, when your child’s shyness is substantially interfering with their ability to function independently (e.g. playing with peers, attending kindergarten, school or when they feel anxious separating from you), it may be beneficial to seek support. It is also important to remember that as everyone is different, not all kids are naturally loud and outgoing and that is okay. Approach your shy child with the aim of developing their skills so that they can be the best they can be, and without a pressure to perform. If you require support in this area, please contact Kids At Max on 03 9702 4447.
Written by Kids At Max – Psychologist