How to Help a Shy Child Make Friends
It’s common for adults to describe children as either shy or, conversely, outgoing. It’s actually in your child’s best interests to avoid labeling them at all. Shyness is a feeling that many have in certain situations, but it doesn’t have to be the defining characteristic of our personality.
Shyness, according to the American Psychological Association
, is the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people. It’s a common reaction to unusual situations, at least occasionally.
Severe shyness may manifest itself in physical symptoms such as:
- A pounding heart or upset stomach
- Negative feelings
- A tendency to withdraw (think child clinging to a parent’s leg, refusing to look up or acknowledge anyone else’s presence)
If you have a child who experiences feelings of shyness in social situations, it can be disheartening to see them withdraw from the companionship and friendship of others.
The best thing you can do as a parent to help your child make friends is to teach your child that his or her feelings are normal and help he or she learn to manage those feelings.
Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., a graduate of UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan, runs a website called Parenting Science. Her goal is to provide parents with a scientifically based, fully referenced source of information on parenting. In an article she writes on helping children make friends, she talks about the importance of being an “emotion coach
” for children.
Be an Emotion Coach
Parents are their children’s first teachers. Children learn about different emotions and about how those emotions impact their behavior from their parents. Talk with your children about their feelings, their fears, and their anxieties in an empathetic, non-judgmental, and problem-solving way.
Make sure your children know they are not alone in feeling uncomfortable during certain social situations. Share your own experiences of feeling shy in certain circumstances and talk about how you overcame that feeling. Read books or watch television shows with your kids in which characters are struggling with feelings of shyness or making friends. Have your child put themselves in the character’s shoes and ask them questions about the experience.
Practice Social Skills
Learning how to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know is a skill, and it needs to be exercised and practiced to improve it. A great piece of advice from Parents
magazine is to make a game out of acting out different social scenarios. You can do this in ways such as meeting a new child at school or on the playground or asking other kids to allow you to join in their game.
In Parenting Science, Dewar cites a study in which mothers were asked to advise their children on how to deal with several hypothetical social scenarios. Not surprisingly, the moms who gave the best advice had kids who were most socially adept. In the case of joining in a game at school, helpful advice included:
- Watch what the other kids are doing and think about things you can do to fit in.
- Don’t be disruptive or critical or try to change the game.
- Try joining the game by doing someone relevant to the game.
Another essential tool to teach your children is how to talk and interact with others. Teach your child simple phrases to use when they meet someone new, such as asking “what” or “how” questions or complimenting someone. Teach your child the appropriate social behaviors, such as greeting people with a friendly smile, making eye contact when talking, and speaking with a clear voice. Help your child learn to recognize social cues that another child is trying to make a friendly overture toward them by complimenting them or asking them a question.
Support and Encourage
Parental involvement is key to a child’s success – in school and life. Children need their parent’s support and encouragement to feel safe and secure. If your child has trouble making friends, Cleveland Clinic
recommends taking time to observe him or her in social situations and monitor their social activities.
Monitor these Behaviors
- Does your child have trouble starting up a conversation?
- Is your child more comfortable in one-on-one situations versus in large groups?
- Is your child missing cues from potential friends?
- Are your child’s friends engaging in child-appropriate activities?
Support and encourage the activities your child enjoys. Participating in activities they enjoy will naturally help children increase their self-confidence and give them topics to talk about with other like-minded peers.
Don’t compare them with other children or other siblings. Every child is different. Even if they have a smaller social circle or seek less social activity, it doesn’t mean they are abnormal in any way.
Finally, ease your child into social situations, rather than always letting your child avoid them. Appreciate the effort it takes and acknowledge every small win with your child. With coaching and encouragement, you can help your child step outside of his or her comfort zone into new situations and eventually, new friendships.