The Shy Child

Written by: Meghan Lymangood

Shyness is something that everyone has experienced at one time or another.  In children shyness is developmentally appropriate at some points in development, but when it persists, it can be worrisome to parents and teachers.   It is typical and normal temporary behavior.  When shyness becomes fearful as in fear of social situations and people, then it should not be ignored by parents.  

There is no one single thing that causes shyness.  It could be the result of negative social experiences, inconsistent guidelines which cause children to feel insecure, or it can be a sensitive temperament that some children are born with.  Other cause could include a development deficit. 

Regardless of the cause, here are some things to do to support shy children:

  • Give them a visual schedule so that they are aware ahead of time about expectations and events
  • Provide them with a variety of social situations and people
  • Show them they are capable by giving them age appropriate responsibilities and reinforce a job well done
  • Help them feel secure with consistent parenting and setting limits and rules
  • Help them anticipate and practice social situation and prepare for play dates

Here are some red flags to help identify a child that may benefit from more support in developing play and social skills:

  • tendency to play alone at school or when in a peer group
  • difficulty initiating with peers
  • difficulty sustaining play with a peer
  • struggling to express emotions or describe the reason for the shyness
  • anxiety about going to school
  • difficulty with transitions
  • difficulty having a reciprocal conversation with peers about personal events, play schemes, etc.
  • refusing to go to birthday parties, playdates, etc.

Here are some more things parents can do to help facilitate play dates for the shy child:

  • Ask your child's teacher for a few suggestions of "good matches" for your child
  • Keep the play date short-1 hour is enough!
  • Plan the play date ahead of time. Pick items your child enjoys doing and is successful at but not their favorite toy.
  • Role play the play date with your child. Have them ask the friend what they want to play. They can give 3 choices.
  • Challenge them during the role play by stating “I don’t want to play that”. Teach your child how to respond by picking another of the 3 choices.
  • Make sure your child is willing to share the objects that they want to play with
  • Keep it moving-each child gets one choice of an activity, maybe a snack in between, and end on a good note!
  • Be available for supervision and to assist if needed. Help direct their play and then step aside but remain in the same room 

Meghan Murphy and Associates and Erin Anderson and Associates offer social skills play groups for kids ages preschool through middle school.  In these small groups, led by both an occupational therapist and a speech and language therapist, children are introduced to the idea of “social thinking” developed by Michelle Garcia Winner.  Whether a child is shy or outgoing, we work with a variety of children, some with development challenges, and others who need a boost in social skills.

Program coordinator, Maria Friedman is more than happy to give you more information about our programs. You can reach her at 773.935.7355. We offer free screenings for our FRIENDS groups.

Posted on August 06, 2012 at 1:06 PM