How to Help Your Shy Child

Is your preschooler attached to your hip every time you go to a birthday party or dinner at a friend's? We can help!

New Situations

Young girl hiding behind her mom

Andrew Parsons

Most days, it seems like your preschooler's mouth never stops moving -- she can fill every hour with questions and comments. But put that same little chatterbox in an unfamiliar setting -- a playground full of new kids, for example -- and she turns bashful or hides behind your legs. Does she have a split personality?

Chances are your child's timid behavior is a natural part of her personality. In fact, many kids are born with a tendency to be cautious in new situations, says Bernardo J. Carducci, PhD, author of The Shyness Breakthrough. Times of transition intensify shyness, so the preschool years can be especially tough for reserved kids -- they're making huge developmental strides, and their world is expanding dramatically. Even ultra-confident children can turn timid when they're faced with the unexpected. But there are simple ways to boost your child's confidence, even in the most trying situations.


Timidness trigger: You bump into a friend you haven't seen in years while you're out shopping. When your pal asks your child his name, he stares at the ground.

Why so shy? Many kids clam up around unfamiliar adults because there are so many expectations about how they should act, says Gregory Markway, PhD, author of Nurturing the Shy Child. "We want them to make eye contact, smile, and talk, when their first instinct is to pull away." Plus, the sheer size of some adults is enough to make little kids cower. And after hearing you tell them repeatedly not to talk to strangers, who can blame them for their reluctance to speak up?

How you can help: Chat with your friend for a minute before making introductions. When your child sees that you're comfortable with this person, he'll feel reassured and will be more likely to talk, says Dr. Carducci. Ask him to say hello, but if he won't, don't push it. Talk later about why he felt uncomfortable and help him practice handshakes, introductions, and conversations with his stuffed animals. Just don't expect too much too soon. Aim for a smile first; he'll become more talkative with experience.

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