How to Be Social

Helping Your Shy Child Connect With Peers

Gently nudging your child toward being more social enriches her experiences and helps her build a support network of peers.

You see your little wallflower hiding behind shy, quiet tendencies—you know how much she has to offer, but her peers can't see it because she doesn't open up to them. It can be painful as a parent to watch a child who struggles socially. You can't bust through that shy facade forcefully, but you can build your child's confidence and social skills to help her come out of her shell on her own.

Work on Building Confidence

Low confidence or self-esteem can interfere with social situations. Instead of focusing on how shy your child is, pour yourself into building him up into a confident, happy child. When a child feels comfortable with himself, he's open to letting others care about him.

Struggling with self-esteem yourself? Working on your own insecurities can transfer into creating self-love in your child. Kids pick up your lack of confidence and may absorb it into their own self-image, so work on shaking those self-esteem issues to model a healthy attitude. You can also project insecurities onto your child if you constantly criticize him or have negative reactions to the things he does. Kids are very aware of how others perceive them, and they may mistake your frustration with a situation as anger toward them. Choose your words and reactions carefully.

Other ways to boost confidence include:

  • Play with your child.
  • Give your child undivided attention to show how important he is to you.
  • Encourage talents and interests.
  • Avoid comparisons between your child and others.
  • Create a safe, loving home environment.
  • Invite your child to open up about feelings without punishing or making fun of him for them.
  • Give your child responsibility.

Put a Positive Spin on It

Being shy has a negative connotation. Using the label draws attention to the situation, reinforces the behaviors and can make your child feel worse. Train yourself to stop calling your child shy, quiet, socially withdrawn or other negative terms.

Instead of focusing on how much she misses because of her shyness, focus on her positive attributes. Perhaps she's thoughtful, reflective and attentive when listening to others. She might do well at school because she concentrates well and doesn't get into trouble. Let her know what you love about her personality.

Talk About the Situation

Lacking social skills can become the elephant in the room that no one addresses directly. Your child feels like he doesn't fit in with his peers. You worry about him being lonely or left out of activities. Bring up the topic gently to get a read on how your child feels. Acknowledge his feelings without trying to fix the situation. Remind him of social situations when he rocked it. Help him think of some conversation starters he can use when he's in a social situation. Discuss social skills he can work on, like showing emotions, being empathetic, controlling anger, supporting friends and apologizing when necessary.

Your conversations don't always have to revolve around your child's social life. Simply talking to you about anything lets him practice conversation skills.

Practice Social Interactions

Put those newly found social skills into practice with real-life situations that encourage her to talk to other people. Examples include setting up a play date with someone she knows, going to a town fair where she can interact with other kids and ordering her own food at restaurants. These simple tasks can build confidence in social skills.

Offer Social Opportunities

If your child doesn't seek out social opportunities, don't be afraid to put them out there. Sign up your child for a class, sports team or another group that's related to an interest. Let him know it's normal to feel nervous before the first class, practice or session. Then remind him of all the fun things he gets to do. You can also point out that the shared experience gives him something in common with the other kids, which can take the pressure off when it's time to strike up a conversation.

Know When Shyness Is a Problem

Being a little bashful is normal for many kids, but overwhelming shyness can interfere with everyday life. Work with your child's pediatrician if the shyness or social withdrawal causes disruptive issues, such as:

  • Avoidance of school or social activities
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Anxiety over social events
  • Inability to adapt to new situations
  • Worry over being shy
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Any other signs that the shyness is becoming debilitating.

Go over the behaviors with your pediatrician to determine if you need a referral to a child mental health specialist.

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