Being shy is just a personality trait, and a quieter style of relating is nothing to worry about. Shy children often get trapped in a vicious cycle that keeps them from connecting with other kids:
- Because they feel uncomfortable in social settings, they avoid interacting with other children around them.
- Hence, they get less practice talking and playing with other children, which makes it even harder for them to develop simple social skills.
- As a result, they feel uncomfortable and want to avoid more social situations.
Here are eight simple ways to help a shy child make friends:
1. Build confidence without labelling them
Negative labels often limit children into believing what or who they can become because these can follow them throughout their life. Instead of putting shy children in a box and giving them a limiting label like "he's the shy one", acknowledge and accept all his traits equally. As a parent, if you don't support your child, who will?
2. Shyness isn't a problem to be fixed
Don't push children to be more vocal or more social than they normally are. Rather, focus on making them feel supported so that they can take small steps without feeling overwhelmed or scared.
Make the mental switch to embracing shyness as a normal personality trait that shouldn't be forced out, but something that needs to be stretched occasionally.
3. Encourage and model confident behaviour
Teach children the difference between being shy and being unconfident. Children often mimic what they see, so as a parent, one of the best things you can do to help your child become more comfortable around new people is to model confident behaviour yourself. If you act and look relaxed, chances are, so will your child.
4. Choose a few good friends
Starting off with one-on-one interactions helps shy children ease out of their reserved shells, so help your child learn how to pick quality over quantity. Identify one or two children in class that your child feels comfortable around and can connect with, rather than trying to fit in with the whole class and failing miserably. Then, arrange a playdate to give your child an opportunity to practice social skills and play with a new friend.
5. Involve his teacher
To give your child a confidence boost in class, work with their teacher to assign their "chosen" friend as their partner or buddy to work together on assignments or for group work. Also speak to the teachers about assigning some responsibility in the classroom to your child so that they feel more integrated as a valued class member without the extra pressure.
6. Follow your child's interests
Sometimes shy children just need a little push to get over the initial hump of social interaction. Bonding over a sport or an activity that your child enjoys can be a great way to bridge that gap. Nurture their talents and interests, rather than force them to sign up for activities that you prefer - and see the difference!
7. Don't overprotect
A natural part of parenting is wanting to shield your child from pain and rejection. However, overprotecting can make them withdraw even further because you are fighting their battles for them. Instead, slowly coax them out of their comfort zone by gradually introducing them to new experiences rather than avoiding the whole situation completely. Remember, positive struggles build grit and character.
8. Be patient
The golden rule of parenting - patience. Instead of rushing or forcing children to do something, let them go at their own pace. When children feel loved and supported, their self-confidence will naturally increase. And if their self-confidence is high at home, then chances are, they will feel better about themselves at school or other social gatherings too.
Practice conversational scripts at home to help your child familiarise themself with what to expect when interacting with another child and making a new friend. Remember, small steps always lead to big progress.
This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.