When you're the parent of a shy (or reserved, or introverted, or quiet, or whatever you choose to call it) child, it can feel like they'll never break out of their shell. You know how amazing they are and you want the world to know it too, but even doing things like introducing themselves to new people or leaving your side for a few moments might make them too nervous to try. If you're looking for ways to help your shy kid make friends, you're not alone.
As a former "shy kid" and current parent of a clingy almost-three-year-old, I know the struggle well. The nerves and feelings of anxiety that would set in when I tried new things are etched into my memory. Don't get me wrong, I had great friends, but was never the loud, outgoing, "popular" person I usually wished (and sometimes tried) to be. Though I outgrew the fears of meeting new people, I still identify as an introvert and see some of these same traits in my own daughter, even at such a young age.
Though there are definitely things parents can do to help ease their child into meeting new friends, a lot of it has to do with realizing that shyness may just be a natural part of their personality. However, teaching them that, in the face of their aversions, they can still thrive and have great friendships is a role that shouldn't be taken lightly.
1. Take It Slow And Don’t Push Them
As with most aspects of parenting, if it’s rushed or forced, it will simply backfire. Instead of signing your child up for new classes or play dates without their knowledge, or forcing them to join the soccer team, introduce them to new things and people slowly. Let them wade into new situations as they feel comfortable. According to Parents, this gives them a sense of control over the situation, and maybe eventually, they’ll join in on their own free will.
2. Model Confident Behavior In Front Of Them
One of the best things you can do to help your child become more comfortable around new people is to model that same behavior yourself, according to Aha Parenting. Teach them that there is a difference between shyness and being unconfident. They can love themselves, try new things and be an introvert all at the same time.
3. Realize Shyness Isn’t A Problem To Be Fixed
Similar to modeling confident behavior comes the mindset switch that many parents should make. Our society places a high value on being extroverted, having lots of friends, and being in the spotlight, which according to BBC can make it even more difficult for introverts to feel valued or important.
Instead of buying into this same mentality, accept your child for who they are, realizing that shyness isn’t a problem to be fixed, as an article from Today’s Parent states, but rather a personality trait to be embraced and occasionally stretched. There’s nothing wrong with helping your child get more comfortable in social situations, but do so with care, not force.
4. Teach Them That One Or Two Good Friends Is Better Than Lots Of Not-So-Good Friends
With all the pressure that kids face to be “popular,” it can be saddening to hear that your child feels they can’t make new friends. Help them remember that there’s greater value and security in a few great friends they can trust and have fun with than fitting in with a crowd who doesn’t care about them in the same way. The article from Aha Parenting cited above notes that it’s more important that your child feels connected than whether or not they’re the life of the party.
5. Avoid Labeling Them
As with all personality types, there is great variety within the label of “introvert” or “shy.” Instead of placing them in a box that they’ll likely come to see themselves, help them realize that their personality doesn’t have to fit inside a label, as an article in Empowering Parents states.
6. Try Not To Over Protect Them
A natural part of parenting is wanting to shield your child from pain and judgement from others. However, over-protecting your child can cause them to withdraw further. According to an article from Huffington Post, introducing your child to new things slowly is better than sheltering them from new experiences all together.
7. Practice Making Friends
Aha Parenting suggests helping your child learn to make new friends by “role playing” with them before the fact. You can even read books about making new friends, and talk them through way to introduce themselves, helping prepare them even further.