child peeking behind door
Every child develops at his own pace. Some kids often are surrounded by peers and engage in conversation while others sit quietly in the background. There is no right time to enter the world of socialization. If your child is on the shy side, the best thing you can do as a parent is to be supportive and provide appropriate avenues for him to interact with others in a pressure-free environment. We offer some simple tips and tricks below to help your child come out of his cocoon and grow into the social butterfly that you had always dreamed he could be.
1. Celebrate your child for who she is. It is natural for parents to have an image in their minds of how they would like their child to act. Parents may picture their child as the center of attention who always has something interesting to say. “The parent can find creative ways to pave the social avenue but the first thing is to try to respect the child’s particular style and personality,” says Naples psychologist Dr. Keith Foster. “There is the child who is outgoing, class leader, friend maker and there is the child who is unfortunately sometimes labeled as the loner but is more comfortable with his solitude.”
2. Don’t force it. Anxiety about your child’s shyness may be contagious. It is important to remain calm and focus on how you can help, rather than engage in self-blame. “When the child reaches out a little bit, we get so excited and overwhelm him. Then he clams up,” says marriage and family therapist Sara Henry. In other words, be patient. Encouraging words often motivate shy kids while occasionally all it takes is watching someone else having fun and the shy child wants to get involved too. Sometimes for shy kids, it takes sitting out for awhile observing others before they take the lead on their own.
3. Find a spark of interest. You can encourage your child to follow through with his interests. “Watch your child’s own cues about his interests and gently support them,” says Henry. Some kids may pursue their interests, such as reading, alone while others may appreciate interaction. Look for opportunities that would be a good match for your child.
4. Focus on the positive. Let your child know that being shy is okay. It may be more meaningful for an introverted child when you acknowledge her strengths and talents. “Every kid does not have to be at the same level of social interaction, but we want kids to be at a level where they feel some reward, where their relationships are meaningful and they are sharing something of themselves,” says Henry. Respect your child no matter what.
5. Make your child comfortable. Sometimes having an accepting attitude may mean interacting in a non-verbal way until your child is comfortable. Adrian Fabatino of Jumping Jacks Play Gym in Naples suggests non-verbal communication with shy children. According to Fabatino, using puppets or role playing with dolls might draw out your child.
6. Start slowly. Take advantage of the time your child spends outside playing by incorporating tactics to get her to come out of her shell. “You can start off at a quieter section of the playground, or find a corner with less commotion and be there with your child to show them it is okay,” says Ray Stewart, owner of Dinosaur Playground in Naples. By repeatedly visiting the same places, familiarity can help your child overcome fears with shyness.
7. Teach conversation starters. Parents play a crucial role in helping their children learn how to hold a conversation. Simply making a point every day, in front of your child, to ask another person how her day is going, or to ask another child if anything interesting happened at school will help lay the foundation of successful communication for your own kids. Sometimes asking the right question does the trick. Other times, it may help if your child is carrying a prop that gets him sharing information with others. For example, a dinosaur or baseball card might encourage conversation with another child.
8. Play. Pediatricians agree that non-structured, open-ended play offers the best chance for social interaction and language development. Imaginative play activities such as playing house or pretending to fly into outer space may foster conversation. Movement such as jumping or even prancing around in a bounce house can help kids overcome shy tendencies. They may engage visually and interact in a non-threatening manner because the activity is fun or silly.
9. Get creative. Parents can make the first move and approach other parents about organizing a play dates or even a play group. If you invite the other children to your home, your child may feel more comfortable in his own environment, and be more prone to talk. Look for activities that require the kids to work together as a team, such as games that involve holding hands, doing things in circles, or relying on friends.
10. Get moving. Activities like dancing, gymnastics or martial arts can improve your child’s self-confidence, make him more independent, and even get him interacting more with others. Many shy children who start martial arts are initially afraid of embarrassing themselves or getting negative feedback, says Jack Morris, chief instructor at Florida Karate Center. But as they learn the sport, “they build self-esteem and become leaders instead of followers here,” he says. “Sometimes when you let a shy child be a leader, it gives them self-esteem,” agrees Nicole Buzzelli, instructor at Kinderdance in Naples.
11. Rehearse through role playing. You can practice with a script until your child feels confident to interact spontaneously. “Kids that are shy may get into a social situation, feel nervous and then their cognitive sequencing stops,” says Henry. You can help prevent those break-downs with preparation. Martial arts are another avenue for practicing appropriate greetings. “We teach kids that if somebody does not have confidence that they should go right up to them and introduce themselves so they feel comfortable,” says Morris.
12. Be understanding. “In kids with special needs, shyness has more to do with processing difficulties that get in the way of having social interactions,” explains Henry. If parents work on developing their own reciprocal play interaction with the child, they can learn what works for them. Sometimes we assume children know how to interact with one another but for a child with special needs, it starts with the parent. “The parent learns to create the circles of communication by understanding the specific individual differences of their child,” says Henry.
13.Seek professional assistance. Ask your child’s teacher for advice on encouraging social contact. In some cases, shyness is indicative of something that needs attention like anxiety or another treatable disorder, and the advice of a therapist is required.
Feeling more comfortable interacting with others does not happen miraculously. Becoming more social is a gradual process and usually does not warrant worrying on your part. Each day is an opportunity for your child to build new experiences along with the possibility of making new friendships.
Jamie Lober, author of Pink Power (www.getpinkpower.com), is dedicated to providing information on women’s and pediatric health topics. She is a frequent contributor to Neapolitan Family.