All kids feel uneasy at times. Fortunately, you can coax any wallflower off the vine and back into action. When my son, Jamie, was 5, he was shy - painfully so. But I’ve come to realize that many kids around this age, even ones who are usually outgoing, have timid moments. “New situations can trigger shyness in 4- and 5-year-olds, and it’s particularly noticeable because children are going into a lot of uncharted territory,” says Golda Ginsburg, Ph.D., associate professor of child psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, in Baltimore. When your kid gets all quiet and withdrawn, how should you react? “It depends on how often your child feels this way,” says Dr. Ginsburg. Just follow our guide - and the only thing hugging your legs will be a nice pair of boots.
The Seldom Shy
IS THIS YOUR KID? Children who rarely feel shy are pretty predictable: They usually only retreat in a new place or around new faces. Plan ahead If your child is starting a new class or going to a party where she isn’t going to know many, or even any, other kids, remind her how to introduce herself. “It could be as simple as telling her to say, ‘Hi! I’m Ellie. May I sit next to you?’ ” suggests Parents advisor Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. In The Moment “Rather than pushing her into the group, let her know it’s okay to hang back for a few minutes to acclimate,” says D r. Borba. “ When s he’s a ware that you don’t expect her to jump right in, it’ll be easier for her to join the fun on her own.” Also resist the temptation to make introductions for her. “She’ll use you as a crutch, rather than building the confidence to start a conversation on her own,” says Dr. Borba. “Once you’re sure that your child can handle a social skill herself - like greeting another child, making an introduction, starting a conversation - then step back.”
The Sometimes Shy
Is ThIs Your KId? If your child’s timidness occasionally extends to friends and family members he sees on a regular basis, then he falls into this category. “Kids may feel anxious in a big group even if many of the faces are familiar,” says Dr. Borba. Plan ahead Talk to your child about an upcoming event - say Grandma’s birthday celebration - where he’ll see you being social. Before you head out the door, you can tell him how sometimes you feel awkward too, and at this party you’re going to try to talk to a lot of people. “It will help him know that his anxiety is normal,” says Judith Gentry, co director of Bank Street Family Center, in New York City. Shy children can also benefit from reading stories about kids who overcame their fears. Three spectacular suggestions from John Peters, a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library: Cherry Time, by Daniela Bunge, Shy Charles, by Rosemary Wells, and Wee Little Lamb, by Lauren Thompson. In The Moment Help him look for opportunities for one on one or small-group encounters at the party rather than being part of a huge crowd, advises Dr. Borba. For instance, suggest that he find his cousin and see if he wants to play hide and- seek, which will be a nonthreatening way for him to move around the room. Another way to get him to loosen up: Request his help with something. “Perhaps Grandma could come over and ask, ‘Will you be my assistant when I pass out the cake?’ ” suggests Gentry. “Kids usually can’t resist the chance to perform some ‘grown-up’ tasks.”
The Chronic Wallflower
Is ThIs Your KId? Serious shyness usually prevents a child from doing something she loves ( playing soccer with the neighborhood kids) or, in extreme cases, something she needs (asking a teacher to use the bathroom). Plan ahead Phone your child’s pediatrician for advice. Chances are, he may want to see your kid to determine whether shyness is part of an underlying condition, like an anxiety disorder. He may also refer you to a licensed therapist for counseling, especially if shyness is making her unhappy and difficult to get along with. In the meantime, rehearse tricky moments - like what to do when another child snatches a toy out of your kid’s hands. “Children who are frequently shy need to practice these encounters over and over again,” says Dr. Borba. “One way to do this is to use homemade puppets to act out everyday scenes such as how to respond when a neighbor waves hello.” In The Moment Show your child how to practice self-soothing techniques when she’s starting to feel nervous. Begin by having her focus on her own breath. This will slow down her breathing and make her more relaxed automatically. Then ask her to take a few deep breaths and slowly exhale. Keep this in mind too: Never apologize for your child not wanting to give her aunt a hug or play kickball with the other kids on the block by explaining that she’s very shy. Says Dr. Borba: “Children tend to internalize this label and begin to believe it about themselves, making it infinitely more difficult to work through these feelings.”