REALITY CHECK: Though chances our your child was born with a shyer temperament, Jerome Kagan, Yale’s foremost child development expert, proves biology is not destiny. Those parents who encouraged their shyer children to expand their horizons and didn’t always rescue or overprotect were more likely to help their children feel more secure and less anxious about life.
If your child is shy, chances are he was born with a more introverted, sensitive personality. So this is not about trying to turn him into an extrovert. After all, you can’t change your child’s personality and natural temperament. But you can help your child learn the skills he needs (and deserves) to feel more comfortable and confident with your kids. And that is doable because of this fact: shyness doesn’t have to be debilitating. So let’s focus on what you can do to enhance your kid’s abilities to find, make, and keep friends. Here are a few of the proven solutions starting on page 291 of my book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries to help a shyer child fit in and feel more comfortable in social situations.
Model eye contact. One of the most common traits of well-liked kids use is that they use eye contact. In fact the average person spends 30 to 60 percent of the time looking at the other person’s face. As you’re talking with your child say: “ Look at me.” or “Put your eyes on my eyes.” If your kid is uncomfortable about using eye contact, tell her: “Look at the bridge of my nose.”
Praise prior success. It’s natural for a shy child to focus on past failures. So help her recall previous experiences when things went really well. “Before you went to Sara’s birthday party last month you wanted to stay home. But when you agreed to stay at least a half an hour and you ended up one of the last ones to leave.”
Reinforce smiling! One of the most common characteristics of confident, well-liked kids is that they smile and smile. So whenever your child displays a smile, reinforce it: “What a great smile!” Also, point out how your child’s smile effects others: “Do see how kids smile back when you smile?”
Debrief a stressful event. If your kid has had a really embarrassing attack of shyness find a time to discuss what happened and she could handle it better next time. “So what really bugged you was asking Kevin face to face. Why not ask him on the phone next time?”
Reinforce any social efforts. Any and every effort your child makes to be even a tad more social deserves a pat on the back: “I saw how you walked up to that new boy today. Good for you!” “I noticed that you really made an effort to say hello to Sheila’s mom. She looked so pleased!”
Schedule warm up time. Some kids take longer to warm up in a social setting, so give your child time to settle in. Be patient and don’t push too quickly. Let her watch a bit, figure out what’s up, and set her own time frame to join in.
Rehearse social situations. Prepare your kid for an upcoming social event by describing the setting, expectations, and other kids who will be there. Then help him practice how to meet others, table manners, making small talk, and even how to say good-bye. Doing so will decrease some of the anxiety he’s bound to have from being in a new setting.
Create One-To-One Time. Many kids can be overwhelmed in groups, so limit the number of friends to one at a time. Then gradually increase the number as she gains confidence.
Remember: your role is not to try and change your child’s basic temperament and personality but instead to help him warm up, open up, and join the fun having friends can bring. Simple, little changes can reap big results.
Using proven solutions and implementing what I call “Results-Driven Parenting” (research-based responses that help parent for real and lasting for change) can make real differences on your children’s lives—especially when you choose ones that matter most in raising good kids. No more guesswork. These solutions are based on proven research. So roll of up your sleeves, and go parent!
Portions of this article are adapted from Michele Borba’s complete reference for raising 3 to 13 years olds: The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) and it’s on sale now!