Even when our children are babies, they begin to pick up on social cues from people around them. When you smile, they smile right back. If you act silly, their response is to laugh or giggle. For various reasons, children may develop social skills at different times and as they approach different milestones in their stages of development. What happens if your child seems to act more withdrawn as they age, shying away from social situations as he or she begins meeting new friends and starting school?
There is nothing more frustrating and heartbreaking if you begin to notice that your child struggles meeting new people and making friends. Instead of putting your energy into worrying, there are guidelines that can be followed that helps you work with your child’s natural temperament, instead of working against it. In many cases, your child’s personality may be causing him or her to be reluctant in making friends and be more cautious. Here are some guidelines found on Care.com based on advice from Margaret Hannah, director of Freedman Center for Child and Family Development:
- Pay attention to their development stage. Most children, at one time or another, are very shy when approached by new people or new situations. This can happen at varying times in development, so it’s important to talk to your pediatrician about any concerns at their regular appointment. In some cases, shyness can be an indicator that there’s a bigger problem present, so it’s important to evaluate your child as a whole. Anxiety can cause some children to retreat and withdrawal, so reaching out to a therapist may be beneficial as well. We recommend talking to your pediatrician first if there are concerns.
- If anxiety isn’t the culprit, there are ways to “meld the shyness” into how they socialize. Your child just may be shy, and that’s ok. It’s important to let your child know that being shy is a part of who they are, and there are other strengths that you can recommend so they feel good when in a social situation. Explain that people typically like to talk about themselves, so asking questions and being a good listener may be a better way to feel comfortable in certain situations. Also explain that maybe their skill is to observe the world around them, like many famous authors and artists. By letting your child know it’s ok to be comfortable in their own skin, it will also help to build their confidence.
- Don’t be pushy. By supporting your child’s unique personality traits, instead of trying to make him or her be something they aren’t, you are patiently helping in their development. Yes, it can be hard! You also don’t want to label your child as “shy” because this can make her feel like she’s not doing something right, also making her feel insecure. By letting your child develop naturally and on their own timeframe, you are helping them develop accordingly and at their own pace. When you think it’s a good time to introduce a new friend, invite them to your home instead of taking your child to their house. This will help ease your child into any new introductions with a potential friend, offering a more comfortable environment when doing something new.
- Don’t overwhelm. One-on-one playdates and get-togethers are ideal for a shy child and can even work well in any situation. It is also much easier to manage children’s developing personalities when there are two of them than a group of toddlers! It’s best to let your child play with his or her favorite toy at first, then mention to both that “David really likes action figures too”, allowing the children to begin interacting on their own.By encouraging conversation in the beginning, it will help them become familiar with each other and teach them how to interact.
- New situations can be tough. With a child that is shy, putting them into a new situation can be tough. The best approach? Let your child prepare. Give them pointers for finding similar interests when meeting new friends or being in a new group of people. It’s also helpful to tell a story of how in a previous new situation, everything went well. Shy children also can benefit from doing a “dry run” of a situation, especially if you can take them to see a new school, party venue or sporting activity beforehand.
- Tell key caregivers about your child’s shyness. Sharing with teachers and the babysitter tips about how to handle your child’s shyness can be very helpful, not only for your child but for the people caring for him. When they know what to expect and that it may take a little time for your child to become comfortable in new situations, it will help in building their caregiver-child relationship.
The ultimate goal, for any parent, is to help our child develop into a confident, secure little person that can interact and enjoy relationships with others. If you have questions about your child’s social development or how they may be interacting with others, give us a call at 618-235-2311 or visit us online at https://childcarephysicians.com/.