It’s not unusual for children to be shy, but there are ways you can help them feel more at ease.
It’s a scenario many parents are familiar with. You drop your child off at a birthday party or friend’s place for a playdate. Rather than joining in with the excitable pack, your little one hangs back – seemingly unwilling to approach the group, or engage with the others.
Experts believe most children feel shy from time to time, but some are more likely to experience ongoing shyness than others. While a lot of children will grow out of shyness, there are ways you can help make social situations more comfortable. Here are some of our top picks:
1. Know the difference between shyness and social anxiety
It’s not uncommon for people to group ‘shy’ with ‘socially anxious’ or ‘introverted’, but it’s important not to get them confused. It’s common for shy children to feel conscious or nervous in social situations and be hesitant to be involved, whereas social anxiety is a diagnosable disorder that essentially causes social paralysis. Social anxiety can have significant impacts on daily life, due to its intensity and persistence. Introversion describes something entirely different; an introverted child is simply happier and most energised either by their own company or by smaller groups. Introverts are not necessarily shy, a child can be introverted and extremely confident – but just prefer smaller social situations.
2. Know that it’s OK for your child to be shy, and let them know it too
There’s no shame in being shy; and it’s important for your child to know it. Plenty of children experience feelings of self-consciousness or discomfort in large social situations; especially in their early days when they’re a relatively new occurrence. Acknowledging your little one’s discomfort with a simple reassurance like: “I understand you might be feeling a little scared right now, as there’s lots of kids around. We can look together before we go in,” can help them feel at ease. Similarly, if other people comment on your child’s shy behaviour in front of them – change the narrative by explaining: “Poppy takes a little while to warm up, but when she feels more familiar she’ll be open to playing.”
3. Encourage confident social behavior
There are a number of ways you can encourage confident social behaviour, without putting a spotlight on your child’s shyness. Leading by example is a great place to start. Try to model social comfort by saying hello to people when they address you, and being calm before entering a room or event. Rewarding their positive behaviour is also helpful. Acknowledge when your child says hello to someone, maintains eye contact or interacts with a group by highlighting the impact, eg: “It was really nice of you to say hello to the girl on the playground. Did you see her smile when you wanted to play?”. Finally, organising playdates and joining sporting teams are a great way to get your child used to social interaction and help foster confidence.
4. If you suspect it might be something else, seek outside help
If your child is exhibiting behaviours that might indicate something other than shyness – eg not hearing or responding to other children, or having difficulty reading social cues, it’s a good idea to speak to your family health practitioner. They’ll be able to address any other potential reasons for your little one’s behaviour.