Do you often find yourself walking into a room with your overly cautious toddler clinging onto your leg and refusing to budge for the entire play date?
Not all kids are are as confident and boisterous as we might expect, but shyness isn't always a sign of lacking social skills.
Here's what three early childhood specialists have to say about kids who like to hang back …
Jerome Kagan, professor of psychology and co-author of *The Long Shadow of Temperament, says:*
"Ask yourself, 'Is my child's shyness so extreme that his or her happiness is being compromised?'
"If that's the case, try inviting over a child who is not too dominant. When your child gets used to that playmate, invite two children over.
"It's the same thing you would do if you were afraid of the ocean. First you put your toe in, then your foot, and so on. It's the elimination of an initial fear response – and it works.
"I've been studying shyness for 30 years and I've found that fewer than 15 percent of children who are excessively shy grow up to have social anxiety. Nine times out of 10, there's no need for parents to worry."
If your preschooler is nervous around new people and too timid to play with other kids, what can you do?
The Preschool Teacher
Dee Costigan, preschool teacher, says:
"I don't think a shy child automatically means an unhappy child. A watchful child may be very comfortable just taking in his surroundings and absorbing information.
"If I see a child looking like he'd like to play but is too shy to join in, I might say, 'It looks like you're really interested in that game.'
"If he says no, then maybe he really does just want to watch. But if he says yes, I might take him by the hand and walk over with him.
"If it's a child who is not going to initiate conversation, I use the words and show him how. I say, 'This looks like fun! I'd really like to play this.'
"I was shy when I was a child, so I try to remember what it feels like and how I wish someone had helped me to join in when I was their age."
JoAnne Thomson, grandmother of five, says:
"Two of my five grandchildren were very shy when they started preschool. It took about a year for one granddaughter to feel comfortable enough to interact.
"Her mother, my daughter, is quite outgoing, and she had a difficult time trying to understand it. She thought, 'Oh, something must be wrong.' I told her, 'Just let your child know she's accepted and don't make a big deal out of it.'
"Children need time to get used to their surroundings. This granddaughter is now nine and she's not shy anymore. She's still cautious – and that's just part of who she is. But being shy is not such a negative in my mind, especially at the age of two, three or four."
WATCH: This toddler just wants his mum to know he loves her. Continues after video …
What to do
The best support you can give your shy child is to help them to know that you accept them just as they are.
You having confidence that your child is normal and well-adjusted is the best reassurance for your child to help them know that they will be fine.
Tips to remember
- Be empathetic to your child's feelings a
- Avoid making them feel ashamed of their shyness
- Give your child extra time and support when they're in a new social situation
- Allowing your child to feel safe in your presence but free to venture further from your side if they are comfortable
- Introduce your child to the people in a new social environment
- Always model friendly behaviour e.g. making eye contact, smiling, being polite, and making small talk.
- Discourage your child from completely avoiding situations that make them feel shy