My daughter is 4 and doesn’t seem to be growing out of her shyness. What can I do to help make her more comfortable around other people and her classmates?
Society tends to celebrate “extraverts” (those individuals who are lit up, energized, and recharged from being around other people), and, perhaps as a result, introversion is viewed as less than, and even problematic. We need to rethink this. Introverts feel, at their most, switched on in quieter low-key environments. They tend to “recharge” from being alone, or from being around someone who doesn’t deplete them.
So, when parents reach out to me concerned that their child is shy, my first question is always to ask:
“Is this a problem for your child? Or is this just something other people perceive as a problem for your child?”
It may be that your daughter is comfortable around people she has a relationship with and prefers her own company or the company of a select few close friends. If that is the case, then we need to do some work ourselves to understand why we have a problem with that.
If, however, your daughter perceives her experience in social situations as problematic then there are steps that can be taken to boost her confidence.
If she is experiencing anxiety, the best approach is to take small steps toward the thing that causes her to feel uncertainty. Start small, identify social situations where she feels most comfortable, and build on those. Perhaps she enjoys having her best friend over to her home for a playdate. A small victory for her might be going to her friend’s house for a playdate instead or adding another friend into the dynamic.
A small step towards the thing causing her uncertainty might look like trying to raise her hand once a day to answer the teacher’s question, or to suggest one idea during a group activity.
I encourage you to really take time to celebrate together all the victories, even if they seem small.
I also encourage parents to reflect on their use of the word “shy.” Labels have a way of sticking. Children grow up believing the descriptions of themselves that they have heard said about them for so long. I often have adults reach out to me expressing their pain at being labeled as shy their whole lives when as adults they don’t resonate with this label. These labels can even influence how others interact with our child and labels can therefore create a self-fulfilling prophecy for the child. Shyness is a feeling – it’s not a trait. A person may feel shy in certain situations, but that is not who they are. The feeling of shyness comes and goes, showing up during certain situations and not others. A person is not “shy” a person simply “feels shy.’ And so, I think it can also be really helpful to look for the opposite and notice the occasions where your child is animated and engaged and engaging with other people. Some individuals have a “slow to warm up temperament which just means it takes time for them to let people into their inner circle.