The Shy Child

The Shy Child

Picture of Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

Be careful not to refer to your child as shy in front of her

Some children jump in and make friends wherever they go, whereas others take a while to “warm up” or remain withdrawn. A child may stand on the side, watch longingly and still not participate, or even cry in discomfort around other children and adults.

It is important to view all these behaviors as part of the child’s process of learning how to connect to others. As her parent, you must try to accept where your child is developmentally (though it can be upsetting when she’s sitting on a bench alone at the park or clinging to your leg at a family gathering) and help her move forward. If you accept who she is, so will she. If she feel secure in your love, she will feel valuable and find it easier to relate to others

Be careful not to refer to your child as shy in front of her. For example, do not tell a neighbor you meet, “She is too shy to say hello.” (this will become her self- view.) Instead say, “She doesn’t feel like saying hello right now,” or explain to relatives whom you are visiting, “Sometimes she needs a little time to feel comfortable.” Do not force your child to speak. It will embarrass her

Be sure to provide ample opportunities for her to be with other children, preferably children who are not overbearing. You can arrange play dates for her at her house if that is where she feels most comfortable. Enroll her in a class at the local community center or at a preschool that is run by professionals who can help her enhance her social skills

Always prepare your child for new situations in advance by telling her who will be there and what will happen. Help her to focus on the positives of the situation and discuss what she might like to do when she arrives. For example, “I’ll bet your friend Denise will be at playgroup today. Do you think you might like to show her your new hair band?”

Your child may need you to model for her how to start a conversation. When someone walks over to her by the sliding pond, you can say, “Hi. This is Sarah. What’s your name?” Overtime your child will internalize your approaches and succeed on her own. Sometimes bringing bubbles or a ball to the park can serve as an icebreaker for a child who is having a hard time joining in.