You want the best for your kids, both now and in the future, so it may feel alarming when they seem to shy away from meeting people and interacting in social situations. You wonder how they’ll stand up for themselves or make friends. Will they have the skills to be successful and thriving adults someday?
Your child’s shyness may be a part of their personality or just a phase. Either way, it’s a part of who they are for now. Rather than trying to change your kid, you need to find ways to ease them out of their shell in a way that feels comfortable for them.
1. Accept the Child You Have
The most important thing you can do is to accept the child you have instead of longing for a personality that doesn’t exist. Shyness or an introverted nature isn’t inherently negative, just like extroversion isn’t a problem. Any personality trait or tendency can be a gift if used appropriately. Let your child know how much you love their unique qualities — every aspect unconditionally.
2. Avoid Assigning Labels
You’re trying to introduce your child to an old friend when they choose to clam up, standing behind your legs and refusing to say hello. You may find this behavior embarrassing and begin to make excuses, “Oh, she’s just shy.”
In these instances, you’re turning their personality and natural tendencies into a negative, subconsciously supporting the idea that you view who they are negatively. It can damage your bond.
Labeling also tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your child hears enough times that they’re shy, they’ll begin to view themselves that way and will be far less capable of growth in social situations.
3. Be a Role Model
One of the easiest ways to encourage your child to socialize is to let them see you doing it. Fear of the unknown stops most of us in our tracks. Demonstrate positive social interactions and the outcome.
You can try simple things like bringing your child along for a coffee date with a friend or interacting with people you know at the supermarket. You can also have company over to your house or bring your child with you to a small gathering where they can meet other kids, and you can socialize with the adults.
4. Practice Social Skills
Some kids may lean into shyness because they don’t feel confident interacting with other people. Doing some intentional work with social skills can be incredibly beneficial for these and any children.
Practice scenarios at home, like playing grocery store. Work on making appropriate eye contact and responding when asked a question. Your time together building these soft skills will help them gain the confidence to leave their protective shell and strengthen your bond as well.
One word of warning, though — make these practices fun and never make it seem like you’re correcting a problem, or they may resist or become discouraged.
5. Get Them Playing
Play is one of the primary ways children choose to express themselves. They feel much freer when they’re active or using their imaginations. Use this as a tool to get them interacting with other kids. Frequent trips to the playground will expose them to children of all sorts. They’re bound to find someone they like. If they still struggle, invite a friend to come along — kids are more likely to join a larger group if they have someone familiar close by.
If the playground isn’t their scene, you can sign your child up for an activity, like scouts or an art class. They’ll explore a hobby while getting countless opportunities to socialize and make friends.
6. Practice Honesty and Empathy
Since fear of the unknown significantly contributes to many children’s shy tendencies, you can help them break out by sharing knowledge. If an upcoming get-together has them full of anxiety, sit them down for a chat. Tell your kid how many people will be attending, if there’ll be anyone they know, what type of entertainment they can expect and so on. Give them as much information as you have so they can create a mental picture of what to expect.
You can also be open with your child about your fears and social anxieties. Let them know you also have moments of uncertainty, but even more importantly, show them how you deal with those feelings. Help them practice strategies for remaining calm and seeking connection anyway.
7. Work Within Their Boundaries
When you’re concerned about your child’s social well-being, it’s tempting to thrust them into every situation you can think of. You register them for multiple classes, invite groups of kids over to play and push your child to talk to kids they don’t know. Unfortunately, this will have the opposite effect from what you’re hoping for. Your kid will likely pull even further into themselves because they’re uncomfortable.
Instead, learn how to work within their boundaries. If home makes them feel safe, encourage deep one-on-one relationships through playdates with their closest friends. Does the playground light them with joy? Let them play as usual and verbally praise any interaction you see happen.
Learning how to establish boundaries is an essential skill more adults need. Show support for your child by honoring the limits they set. They’ll have more healthy relationships and grow confident in their social abilities.
Get Support if Needed
While being shy or introverted is usually not something you need to worry about, you know your child. Sometimes anti-social behaviors can be a sign of a more serious problem.
If they regularly avoid eye contact, make people uncomfortable or display a lack of remorse for any actions, you may want to speak with a professional. Neurodivergencies like autism can often account for these behaviors as well as rare conditions like psychopathy. A doctor or psychologist can help you determine if your child is experiencing more than shyness or introversion.