10 Tips to help your extremely shy child

Many young children are naturally shy when experiencing new situations. But what do you do if you have an extremely shy child? What if shyness prevents her from interacting with—and having fun with—other children? What if being very shy prevents her from participating in activities at preschool or kindergarten?

Understanding Shyness

Shyness is a developmentally normal and common characteristic among young children. It’s a natural response to what may seem like a scary or overwhelming situation. But shyness is difficult to address because it’s a mixture of emotions. Shyness can include fear, tension, apprehension, and anxiety.

Different levels of shyness can occur throughout a child’s development, according to early childhood experts. For example, infants are naturally fearful of new adults. And at age 4 or 5, children can develop self-conscious shyness, or the fear of embarrassment.

Usually, shyness gradually goes away as children grow older and experience a variety of new situations. But the child with extreme shyness may take a lot longer to warm up to people or situations. She might need your help to overcome her shyness.

How do I know if my child has extreme shyness?

A very shy child might show a combination of the following behaviors when in an unfamiliar place or situation:

  • He rarely speaks voluntarily.
  • He doesn’t respond when an adult or peer asks him a question.
  • She follows directions but doesn’t respond verbally to them.
  • When she does speak, she usually speaks in a very soft, quiet voice.
  • He turns away when he’s spoken to by others and makes little or no eye contact.
  • He often looks at the ground.
  • She watches other children play, but doesn’t join in.
  • She looks tense, distracted, or worried.
  • He might refuse to enter a new place without a parent.

 

What can I do to help my extremely shy child?

As a parent or caregiver, you can gently encourage your child to become more outgoing. Keep in mind that your child isn’t being shy out of stubbornness, so she shouldn’t be punished for shy behavior. Instead, consider dealing with shyness as any other learning process, such as learning to read. The key is to be patient, gentle, and understanding with your child as you boost her confidence.

Here are 10 tips for helping your extremely shy child:

  1. Don’t label your child as “shy.”  When you label your child as “shy,” you’re doing two things. First, you’re stripping him of his many other qualities and allowing the label to define his personality. Second, you’re encouraging him to view himself as “shy.” This can cause him to act out the “shy” role without making an effort to change. Instead of labeling, try to describe your child’s behavior in ways that don’t include the word “shy.” For example, you can say, “Sam just needs some time to get used to new situations” or “He likes to observe what is happening around him before joining in.”
  1. Teach her social skills.  You can teach your child many social skills that can help her overcome shyness. You can teach her how to:
  • meet new people
  • greet others
  • initiate conversations
  • join in play
  • make eye contact
  • be a good listener
    You can use puppets, action figures, or dolls to role-play different situations. Teach her how to use specific phrases, such as “Hi, my name is Maria,” and “Can I play too?”
  1. Explain the benefits of being more outgoing.  Chances are, you were once a very shy child. Or, you may still be shy in certain situations. A predisposition to shyness has been linked to genetics, although this trait can be overcome. If this is the case, give a personal example of a time when you overcame shyness. Explain why that experience was good for you. Discuss the good things that will come from acting more outgoing. These things can include making new friends, having more fun, and enjoying school more.
  1. Help your child meet and make friends.  Try to expose your child to new children and settings. But do this gradually. For example, you might visit a park where the same children play on a regular basis. Don’t force him to interact with unfamiliar children right away. Be sure to give him plenty of time to warm up. Arrange play dates for him at home, where he feels comfortable and safe. During first interactions, give your child the words he needs to talk with new friends. You can do this in many different ways, but here are a few options:
  • Prompt him directly, such as, “Tell Mia that you would like to help too,” or “Ask Will what game he would like to play.”
  • Speak to both children to encourage conversation. For example, you might say, “Ella, I know you like to paint. Anna is a great painter, too.”
  • Speak to the other child and then ask your child a question about the conversation. For example, you might say to the other child, “Quaid, I like your dinosaur shoes.” Then to your child, “Do you like his shoes? Don’t you like dinosaurs too? What’s your favorite dinosaur?”
  1. Set goals and reward progress.  Work with your child to set behavior goals and track his progress. Start small and gradually build. For example, one manageable goal might be to say hello to a neighbor. When your child reaches the goal, mark it on a progress chart. Offer lots of praise or a small treat as a reward.
  1. Praise outgoing behavior.  Reinforce the new social skills your child is learning. When you see her attempting to overcome shyness, praise her with lots of warmth and affection. Be careful not to do this in public if your child is likely to be embarrassed. Instead, tell her how well she has done in private.
  1. Model outgoing behavior.  Your child learns how to act in large part by watching you. So, be sure to act friendly toward others in front of your child. This might be difficult if you have struggled to overcome extreme shyness yourself. But keep in mind that your child is likely to imitate your actions. If you act shy in front of him, then he will have a more difficult time overcoming his own shyness.
  1. Build your child’s self esteem.  Children who feel good about themselves are less likely to be shy. Identify your child’s strengths and build on them. Is he creative? Is she athletic? Encouraging these skills will allow your child to see himself as a talented and capable individual. This sense of confidence can help him become braver in social situations.
  1. Use books!  Read books with your child that feature characters who have overcome extreme shyness. Use the stories as a starting point for discussions about shyness and how it affects her life. Here are some suggestions:
  • Buster the Very Shy Dog by Lisze Bechtold. Three stories feature Buster, a dog who tries to overcome his shyness in the midst of some bossy animals.
  • Maya’s Voice by Wen-Wen Cheng. Maya has just started school, but she cannot find her voice. Children who have selective mutism or just don’t enjoy talking will especially identify with Maya.
  • Too Shy for Show-and-Tell by Beth Bracken. Sam wants to participate in show-and-tell at school, but he is just too scared. Children who hate to be the center of attention will understand Sam’s dilemma.
  • Shy by Deborah Freedman. Shy hides inside the gutter of the book because he is too shy to come out. But then he hears a beautiful bird and can’t wait to meet her. The clever concept of an unseen character will captivate children, along with the beautiful watercolor illustrations.
  • Little Miss Shy by Roger Hargreaves. Little Miss Shy is invited to a party, but she is too scared to go. But she learns that when she overcomes her shyness, she can actually have more fun.
  1. Communicate with teachers.  If your child attends preschool or kindergarten, team up with the teachers. Create a plan together for helping your child overcome his shyness. Talk frequently about the strategies you’re using at home. Work together to set goals for your child. With a consistent approach both at home and at school, you can increase the results of your efforts.

 

Does your child have extreme shyness? How have you helped him or her? Add your suggestions in the Comments section below. We’d love to share them with other parents of extremely shy children!

 

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Susan Light
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Susan Light is a mom, a grandmother, a journalist, and an educational expert. She is a senior editor at Rainbow Educational Concepts, and she blogs regularly for Dilly’s Tree House. Susan focuses on research-based topics for parents of preschoolers and ways to help young children get ready for kindergarten.

5 Comments
  • Teaching manners: 5 tips to prepare your child for holiday guests
    Posted at 13:19h, 09 December Reply

    […] Remember that your child is still learning important social and language skills such as listening to others and participating in conversations. So don’t expect him to be the perfect host. If he runs away and hides from your guests, don’t stress about it. If you give him some time, he will likely warm up to the new faces. Be patient and understanding. If you have an extremely shy preschooler, check out our 10 tips to help your extremely shy child. […]

  • Anna C Kessie
    Posted at 23:36h, 22 March Reply

    My daughter is extreme shy. She has a handful of friends that she is very comfortable with and enjoys playing with. It took a long time to get there though! These are people she has been exposed to for a few years! New situations take a very long time for her to adjust to. Sometimes I worry something is wrong with her, but I will just try to be as patient and understanding as I can, and see if it passes. She is in kindergarten now, but I homeschool. There is a homeschool co-op through the school district that she attends a couple days a week. She enjoys going, but it has been hard to get her to adjust. I go with her every week. She lets me stand outside the classes now, so the next step will be going down the hall, and then dropping her off. She did preschool last year and she adjusted pretty well because she recognized the teacher from church and had another friend in her class. There are times where she won’t go and play with kids (like at a park) unless I stand right with her. I just want her to be carefree and have fun! I feel bad she is missing out on some things. I do give her lots of opportunities to be around people, so I hope that eventually she will feel more comfortable

    • mm
      Judi Coffey
      Posted at 22:46h, 19 August Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. You are a great mom! I’m sorry I must have missed this earlier.

  • Taylor Bishop
    Posted at 10:29h, 16 August Reply

    Thanks for these tips that could help a shy child. I’m glad that you mentioned how your behavior in social situations can impact your child, especially since they usually imitate a parent’s actions. Sometimes learning by example is the best way for a child to learn. If it’s something that both of you struggle with, maybe it can be good to let them know about it and explain what you are trying to do to improve. It can make them feel more validated about their shyness while also trying to fix it like you are.

    • mm
      Judi Coffey
      Posted at 22:44h, 19 August Reply

      Thanks for your great comment, Taylor. Glad you found this helpful.

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