TalkingParents. A communication platform for co-parents. Open navigation
Parenting resources

3 Helpful Ways to Encourage Your Shy Child to Socialize

Learn how to help your child get comfortable with shyness and social interaction.

How to help a shy child make friends

It’s common for adults to describe children as shy if they are bashful or withdrawn in social situations. Even though it seems harmless at that moment, it’s in your child’s best interests to avoid labeling them and provide productive solutions instead. Shyness is a feeling many children and adults experience in certain situations, but it doesn’t have to be the defining characteristic of a person’s personality.

According to the American Psychological Association, shyness is the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people. It’s a common reaction to unusual situations for most people, but there are instances where shyness can be so intense that it affects a person’s day-to-day interactions with others.

Severe shyness may manifest itself in physical symptoms such as:

  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • A pounding heart
  • Upset stomach
  • Negative feelings
  • Worry
  • 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. As a parent, the best thing you can do to help your child make friends is to help them understand that those feelings are normal and learn how to manage them healthily.

Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., runs a website called Parenting Science to provide parents with a scientifically based, fully referenced source of information on parenting. Her article on helping your children build social skills has helpful suggestions for parents seeking productive solutions. Here are three practical ways for parents to help their children navigate shyness in social interactions.

Parents are their children’s first teachers

Be an emotion coach

Parents are their children’s first teachers. Children learn about different emotions and how they impact behavior from their parents. In her article on helping your children make friends, Dr. Dewar discusses the importance of being your children’s “emotion coach” as they develop social and self-regulation skills. Talk with your children about their feelings, fears, and anxieties openly. Make sure that conversations with your children are made in an empathetic, non-judgmental manner. The goal of each talk should be to assess your children’s struggles and look for productive solutions.

Make sure your children know they are not alone in feeling uncomfortable during certain social situations. Share your experiences of feeling shy in certain circumstances and discuss 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. Gaining more exposure to these situations will assure your children that being shy is a common experience that can be improved with intentional efforts.

Practice social skills

Learning how to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know is a skill that must be practiced to improve. One piece of helpful advice from Parents is to make a game out of acting out different social scenarios to help children become more comfortable with social interactions. This game allows children to consider various situations and how they would interact with others. These scenarios can be practiced by:

  • Taking the perspective of characters in books or TV shows
  • Having play-pretend conversations with toys
  • Playing board games
  • Telling short stories

In her article from Parenting Science about being an “emotion coach,” Dr. Dewar discusses the benefits of practicing social skills and cites a study in which mothers were asked to advise their children on dealing 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, the moms told their children to consider these questions:

  • Watch what the other kids are doing and think about things you can do to fit in
  • Don’t be disruptive or critical
  • Don’t try to change the game
  • Try joining the game by doing something relevant

Another essential tool to teach your children is talking and interacting 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. Ensure your child understands that friendly social cues include someone asking you a question or giving you a compliment.

Children need their parent’s support and encouragement to feel safe and secure

Provide support and encouragement

Parental involvement is vital to a child’s success in school and life. Children need their parents’ 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 for 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 social cues from potential friends?
  • Are your child’s friends engaging in age-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.

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 his or her comfort zone into new situations and, eventually, new friendships.

Share this article