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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Preparing the Shy Child for Pre-K

By Sarah Lyons

It’s normal for kids to feel shy around new people or situations but parents may worry their child is missing out on friendships because they aren’t engaging with others. Most reserved children maintain healthy relationships and enjoy social situations once they get over the hurdle of unfamiliarity. How can you support your shy child while encouraging them to enjoy participating in social situations? 

One of the best ways to support a shy child is to put them in social situations they feel most comfortable in. If your child loves art but dislikes sports, they will be much more likely to engage with others in an artistic environment than on a sports team. When enrolling your child in preschool, camps, or attending play dates, keep in mind that they are much more likely to open up and build relationships with other kids when they are doing something they love along with kids who have common interests. 

Young kids may feel shy because they are unsure of how to act in social situations. Teach them social skills through role play, acting out scenarios they may come across or using dolls or toys. Practice saying “Hi, my name is Avery. Do you want to play?” Go through the possible scenarios and how to respond. What would happen if the child said “No. You can’t play.” or what would happen next if they say you can play. 

Going through possible scenarios will help your child feel more confident in real life situations. “I encourage my kids to speak for themselves whenever possible,” said Amy Cameron, Olathe, Kansas mom of three. “They order their own food in restaurants and tell the doctor what their symptoms are. It’s so easy to speak for them, but I actively try not to.” 

Kids who are shy often feel more comfortable in small groups or one-on-one. Help your child build friendships by hosting playdates. You know your child best and can invite other kids who are a good match, with common interests, and choose a location where your child feels confident. 

Have a few planned activities to do together during the playdate and prompt your child. “Do you want to show your friend your toys?” or “Would you like to choose a board game?” or “Do you want to go outside and play on the swingset?” Chances are, the kids will begin to talk, play, and find common ground they can build a friendship on. 

Kids who are shy may hold back at first but that doesn’t mean they don’t desire and enjoy friendships. By helping them develop friendships, you will help them overcome their shyness in a natural way. 

If your child is feeling shy at school, reach out to teachers for help. Teachers, coaches, and other adult role models in their lives can prompt them to speak up for themselves, participate in social situations, encourage friendships, and help them feel safe as they step out of their comfort zone. This can be especially helpful for preschoolers who are just starting their school career, helping make it a positive experience.

As your child matures, they may outgrow their shyness, but it’s important to remember that some kids are introverted. Not every introvert is shy and not every shy child is introverted, but they do often go together. 

There is nothing wrong with being quiet and parents should be careful not to label or criticize their child for feeling shy or if they are naturally an introvert. Be patient and encouraging with your child. When they do step out of their comfort zone, praise them for the effort. 

“As a mom of an introvert who is herself an extrovert, I constantly remind myself that we don’t need the same kind of experiences to feel fulfilled,” said Shawnee, Kansas mom, Kara Thomas. “It’s hard to resist the urge to push him into things that I would enjoy. I just always check in to make sure he’s enjoying life and when he needs some help, we brainstorm ways that meet what he needs.” 

Shyness is often a child’s response to new or scary situations and is common in preschool and early elementary children. It can be the result of emotions such as fear, anxiety, and nervousness which are often valid feelings in a new situation. 

Try not to force your child to be outgoing but instead, gently encourage them. If you feel your child is dealing with extreme shyness where they are unable to speak or freeze in social situations longer than age appropriate, speak to your pediatrician for tips on how to best support them. 

Positive Characteristics of Introverts

Being an introvert is often seen as a negative characteristic in our society. The truth is, introverts have many positive characteristics which deserve to be appreciated.

• When an introvert reaches out to a friend offering help, it means they truly care about that person. 

• They are good listeners and have great observation skills.

• They take time to think of what they want to say before speaking.

• Introverts often develop close friendships and are trustworthy.

• They have the ability to focus on tasks and think deeply about concepts.

• They are comfortable with silence and usually very independent.

• Introverts often practice good self reflection and feel comfortable with who they are. 

Sarah Lyons is a mom of six children, including 9-year-old triplets. While she is an extrovert, she is a wife and mother to several introverts. She strives to encourage her kids to step out of their comfort zones while also celebrating their unique personalities.