Q: My Child Is Shy. How Can I Make Her More Outgoing?
Each child has a different personality. Even siblings have different personalities. While some are introverts, others are extroverts. Before you start worrying that your child is too shy or aloof, check and observe if she is just more comfortable spending time alone with herself, family and close friends.
Child introverts have a tendency to listen more than they talk. They don’t open up easily and get quite embarrassed whenever they make a mistake in public. They are more interested in imaginative play and creative pursuits like role-playing and assembling blocks. From such activities, they are able to learn, experiment and solve problems. Imaginative play allows children connect with the adult world. It helps them develop social skills like negotiation, taking turns and sharing. Imaginative play is their way of making sense of the world and learning practical life skills that form the basis of their interaction with others later in life.
In school, at the park or playground, a child introvert first watches other children before deciding to join the group. The child prefers to assess the environment and the other children first before diving in. In such instances, let the child take her time.
If you however notice that your child is too shy to warm up to others or the situation, step in and give her a boost. A somewhat obvious sign is when you see the yearning in your child’s eyes to join the others. That yearning might imply, “I want to join but will they let me? Can you help me? Can you introduce me to them? Can you back me up?”
When your child gives you the green signal by verbally confirming what she wants, go ahead and accompany her. Let her know that you will be just around the corner when she does join the group. You can also observe how the group treats your child and your child’s response. This will allow you to gain a deeper insight into how she responds to strangers and learn from it so that you will know how best to help her in the future. Be cautious, though. Pressuring your child into joining a group or becoming more outgoing can backfire.
Avoid criticising your child in encouraging her to overcome her shyness. The fact that she does not feel like taking part in an activity does not mean she is trying to frustrate you. Remember that your child’s mind is quite absorbent and if you keep repeating criticisms, she will eventually start to believe whatever you say she is. To avoid this, don't criticise her but encourage her to delve into the activities that she is naturally drawn to. If she is creative enough to make a tent out of old sheets or blankets, suggest that she play hostess at a tea party and invite younger kids in the neighborhood to be her guests - this way, she will be in a familiar environment. She will also be able to focus on what she’s really good at and not on what she thinks other kids think of her.
Other practical steps you can take are covered below:
- Shyness is a personality trait - not a weakness to be corrected. It is often a radiation of inner peace. Let your child know that it’s ok to be shy.
- Create a comfortable environment that allows the social personality of the child to shine. Once you understand what your child prefers, you will be able to accept her the way she is and identify the best way to bring her out of her shell.
- Avoid labelling or calling the child shy.
- Children often see us as their role models. If you are warm and friendly with others, the child will pick up on it.
- Encourage as many social situations as possible so that your child can get used to being around other people. Combine empathy with your confidence in her ability to cope and make sure this is obvious to her.
- Help your child work through her fears daily without putting pressure on her.
- When your child makes an effort to socialise, praise her so that she will look forward to repeating the behaviour.
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