A shy child is one who is nervous in the company of others. It’s vital to stress on the fact that shyness is a personality trait and not a fault. As parents, we must avoid labeling the child shy. Understanding this is half the battle won!

There’s nothing wrong with shyness.

A shy child often ‘warms up’ as he gets to know a person or situation. This means it’s more helpful to describe a child as ‘slow to warm up’ rather than ‘shy’. Labelling a child as ‘shy’ can make him feel there’s something wrong with him, or there’s nothing he can do about his shyness.

Toddlers are at that age where ‘being shy’ is considered very natural. In fact, it’s a part of their nature. They are quiet, reserved and demonstrate reluctance among a group of strangers. It’s time to put your fears to rest as all your toddler needs, is time.

Sometimes a toddler might experience separation anxiety as being away from the parent might be one of the causes. The child might get clingy, but this is only for a specific time and those symptoms will start to disappear by the age of 3.

How can you help your child participate and talk more?

1. Avoid labelling: By characterizing a child as having a specific trait, you risk causing them to think they will always be so. The label further reinforces the behaviour. The child will then perpetuate it.

2. Don’t push and give them time: Don’t push a child into doing something they fear. Being forceful backfires, they may become agitated or even more terrified. Give your baby time to feel comfortable. Don’t make your child go straight into the arms of a less familiar adult. Instead, encourage the adult to play with a toy near your child and use a calm voice.

3. Be around, to start with: Stay with your child in social situations, like playgroup or parents’ group, while encouraging her to explore. As your child gets more comfortable you can gradually move away for short periods. Just come back before your child gets upset so her experiences of venturing out are positive. 

4. Encourage and empathize: Acknowledging your child’s reluctance and showing empathy is going to enable them to move beyond comfort zones. For example, sharing your own experience of overcoming a similar obstacle such as, “Shivang, I had a fear of swimming when I was your age. But I overcame the fear of water.” The toddler seeks solace in that very fact and finds the courage to jump into the pool!

Let your child know you’re confident about her ability to handle social situations even if you’re feeling a bit worried she’ll get upset.

5. Acknowledge: Praise and positive feedback have always gone a long way in witnessing a change in behavior. Hence, it’s no surprise that if we as parents praise our child’s abilities and show enthusiasm in what they do, there will be a remarkable difference in their behavior. Be specific about what your child has done – for example, ‘Noah, I liked the way you said hello to the boy in the park. Did you notice how he smiled when you did that?’

6. Allow struggle: Often when as parents, we see our child struggling, we immediately come to their rescue. This may not be the right thing for them. For example, if someone asks your toddler how old he is, don’t answer. We see the shy toddler as vulnerable and overprotect them.

7. Avoid over comforting: Over-comforting sends the message that you think this is a scary situation. This might accidentally reward your child’s shy behavior.

8. Model confident behavior: Try to model confident social behaviour so your child can watch and learn from you. For instance, when someone says hello to you, always say hello back.

9. Don’t have unrealistic expectations: It’s the expectations that lead us to feel depressed and make the child feel the unnecessary pressure. Lift that burden off your shoulders by not having unrealistic expectations.

10. Encourage exposure: Let your child be exposed to different food, people, places and music. It’s difficult to embrace the unfamiliar, but it will be worth it in the long run. The toddler will experience a variety of experiences and will be comfortable in all types of situations.

11. Script social interactions: You can create games and play dates that help your child in opening up. As challenging as this sounds, it isn’t. This is because your child can be in situations where he/she is in control of the situations while interacting with others. Your child will open up and could begin speaking his/her mind. Involve two or three kids in a group game. Copy-dancing can entice reserved children to participate. One child dances while the others mimic their moves. Put on familiar music, and have a natural-born leader start the show. “Simon Says” is another version of this game.

In the words of William Wordsworth, ‘The flower that smells the sweetest is shy and lowly’. Therefore, confidence and more participation will occur slowly but surely.