How to Help a Shy Child Make New Friends
July 26, 2023
by cora gold, guest contributor
Do you have a child who struggles to make friends at school or hides behind you at the playground? Many children experience shyness, whether it be a short phase or a long-term challenge. It can take time to grow out of shyness, but there are many ways you can help a shy child make new friends. All you need is some patience, encouragement, and the right activities to help your child thrive.
How to Tell if Your Child is Shy or Anxious
One of the best ways to tell whether your child has anxiety or is just shy is to notice how they approach new situations. For shy children, getting accustomed to a new friend group or settling in at a new school might take a while. Anxious children might try to avoid those situations altogether. The good news is that shyness can typically resolve with a little work you can do to help your child.
It can be challenging to differentiate between your child exhibiting anxiety symptoms and having a shy personality. Though not every shy child is anxious, shyness can lead to anxiety. About 15% of children are this type of detrimentally shy, which could lead to social anxiety disorders that can inhibit them. You can help your child fight shyness, allowing them to step confidently into any other situation.
Some forms of shyness you may see your child exhibit include:
- Physical symptoms, like stomachaches or sweating
- Getting nervous when speaking in front of others
- A hesitation to get out of their comfort zone, even in a low-stakes situation
However, these signs don't necessarily indicate a larger problem, like anxiety. Still, if you notice your child getting upset more often or avoiding social interaction, you may want to take a different approach. Almost 20% of kids have some form of anxiety, which grew exponentially due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout. However, shyness doesn't necessarily mean they have anxiety.
Techniques to Help Your Child Shine
Unlike anxiety — which might need professional help to conquer — your child can reframe their shy personality and learn to come out of their shell. With your help, they can understand one bad or embarrassing experience doesn't define them, and they can shine like the star they are when wholeheartedly embracing themselves.
1. Get Them on the Playground
Playground equipment is specifically designed to encourage social interaction and collaborative play, which can help a usually shy kid work with total strangers. Setting up smaller playdates can help your child get used to kids they already know, but taking them to playgrounds can teach them to work well with others they don't know.
These skills around strangers can benefit them later in life, such as when interviewing for jobs or joining organizations in college. They need to learn how to navigate the world around new people — coming together for a collaborative cause on the playground can help them build those skills at a young age. Someone they meet on the playground could even become their next best friend.
2. Set Little Goals With Them
Kids love accomplishing things — it makes them feel good about themselves when they win at something or achieve a goal they've been excited about. Setting some small targets might encourage your child to push past their initial hesitation. Make these achievements more fun by them by offering to get them a toy or book once they feel more confident in their interactions with others.
3. Don't Label Them — Reassure Them
The labels you put on your kids could stick with them forever. Kids often turn to adults as their role models, so people like caregivers and teachers significantly affect how a child turns out. Almost 90% of children around 12 had someone they looked up to. If you label your kid as something, they may think you've already decided their future.
For example, if you label a kid shy or tell others they're shy while in their presence, that child might not be eager to get out of their comfort zone. They may think the label is how they're supposed to act and being told they're one way might be difficult for them to shake off.
Instead, encourage them with positive words. Tell them they're smart and innovative. Comment on how happy they look when solving problems with others. Speak encouragement instead of detrimental words.
Help Grow Your Child's Confidence
Children aren't always born confident. Sometimes, building that comfort in social settings takes a bit of time and something as small as one interaction can tear that down. It may not be a simple process to encourage your child to be more confident, but with your help, they can put themselves out there and slowly eliminate their shyness. Then, they'll be ready to tackle whatever the world throws at them.
Parenting lesson: Celebrating your child’s individuality
The comparison game – we know it’s fruitless, we know we’re not supposed to do it, yet how often do we find ourselves gathering tid-bits about other kids to use as a ruler for our own child? Let's talk about letting that go and celebrating the things that make our children uniquely, wonderfully them.