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How To Help My Shy Child

My two boys are similar in many, many ways. They like the same music, their hair sticks up in the same place and they both go to sleep early at night.

But this one, this one right here. He is shy.

It's hard to believe that this goofy guy is shy.

My eldest child is not shy…at all. In fact, once, while at a store, he randomly walked up to someone and gave him a hug. We often joke that he’ll go with anyone, anytime, even if he’s never seen them before. But Ben is not that way…and I have no idea how to handle it.

He’s shy for the first half hour of larger family gatherings (where he knows everyone, but it’s more than just my parents for example).  He wants to be held (which is not fun, he’s almost 4 for crying out loud) or hides behind us, refusing to talk  to or answer anyone until someone does something exciting or interesting enough to entice him from behind my legs. Then he’s fine for the rest of the party, usually not wanting to leave.

Same thing happened at a recent birthday party for his BFF. He was nervous going in. This was his first friend party. He asked alot of questions about what to do if there were kids there he didn’t know. I told him to simply say, “Hi, I’m Ben” if he encountered anyone, which he agreed with. When we got there though, he would not leave my side, hanging onto my leg the whole time. He wouldn’t say hello to the birthday girl or her mother, even though he sees them both every day and there was only one child there he didn’t know. Everyone else was from his class. I had no idea how to handle the situation and fear I handled it poorly. I put on my fake mom smile and tried to cajole him into participating. I threatened that we should leave since he wasn’t doing anything anyway. Inside I was annoyed and a little embarrassed that he was the only one hiding in the corner.

It’s times like this that I have to remember that my two children are not the same — that Ben has his own personality and temperament and may be a bit fearful in these situations. I have to remember that it’s my job to help him navigate these social scenes so when he’s older he knows how to approach a cocktail party or work meeting. It’s my job to love him and support him just the way he is.

So help me out. Do you have a child who is timid? If so, how do you help him or her feel comfortable in situations like birthday parties?

7 comments

  1. MediaMom April 23, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    I feel your pain. My daughter can be the same way, and it is excruciating as a parent to deal with it. I’m not sure why, given that in all likelihood I was much the same way at her age. Granted my daughter is 6, which is a lot different from 4 for this sort of thing, but I try to suggest to her what she might do, and then I turn away and pretend not to pay attention and force myself not to intervene further. I try not to give her attention, so there’s no “reward” for her hiding behind me. It’s really tough though. This weekend she saw a girl from her school playing with some very cool balloons in the park with what looked like family friends. My daughter desperately wanted to join them, so I encouraged her to walk up and ask if she could join them. It took her a lot of courage, but she finally asked the girl if she could play with them. I was so proud. And then girl said, “No. I just want to play with my friends.” UGH!

  2. Progressive mom April 23, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    I’m proud of your daughter’s courage too. Good for her! And boo to that girl who wouldn’t play with her.

  3. Melissa Carlson April 23, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    *age 8 🙂

  4. Melissa Carlson April 23, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    *Yep, one very shy daughter (& two very outgoing sons). I role-play any new situation with my daughter, age 8, until she is comfortable with their possible responses & her follow-up replies. For example, she wanted to approach a new neighbor girl so we role-played what she would say if the girl replied, “ok, what should we do?” or “umm, no thanks”.

    Like anything else, practice may not make perfect but it does build confidence! 🙂

  5. Brenda April 23, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I have no personal experience with this, but maybe a reward for going outside the comfort zone would help the shy kids open up more quickly…..?

  6. Rachel April 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    We go through the same thing with birthday parties. I’ve found that if we’re among the first to show up, he’s able to get into the swing of the party with the other kids as momentum gets going. But if we show up once everyone’s already playing and in hyper-birthday-mode, it can take up to an hour (!) for him to relax enough to really join in. Of course then he doesn’t want to leave!

    It can feel embarrassing to sit on the sidelines with your munchkin, watching the party. If I do that patiently and allow him to decide when he’s ready, eventually he will join in. But if I push or ask if he wants to go home, I seem to just make him more uncomfortable.

  7. Kate April 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Good post/discussion. I remember being shy as a child, and though I’m a lot better now, there are still social situations when I feel awkward. (Perhaps that’s true for most people.) I would have to say that shy kids really do need to get out there and build their confidence. I think the most important thing my parents could have done is to acknowledge my feelings, and not to force/pressure, but to regularly encourage me to face my fears.

    One of the most realizations I came to is that there is a difference between being shy and being introverted. There are a lot of reasons why it’s not good to be shy (miss out on cool life events, may be perceived as rude, even potentially perform less well academically), but being introverted really isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it may be near impossible to change that about someone’s personality. Best of luck!

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