Watching a shy, timid, or hesitant little one can be painful. They hang back, look uncomfortable or tense, cry or cling to their parents. Sadly they can also lose out on having fun and experiencing life at its fullest. If your toddler is shy, chances are that he or she was born with a more introverted, sensitive personality. The last thing you want to do is try to turn your little tyke into a bubbling social butterfly. Besides, a child's personality and natural temperament isn't something you can change. But you can recognize your little one's natural qualities and help him or her learn the skills needed to feel more comfortable with others. And that is doable because of this fact: shyness doesn't have to be debilitating. Here are a few secrets to helping your toddler gain confidence in social settings.
- Consider your expectations. Are they in line with your child's abilities, strengths, and comfort-level? For instance, do you ever force your kid to perform in public or push him to join others when he is anxious? How do you typically react to your child's shyness? If someone comments to you about your child's shyness-especially in front of your toddler-how do you respond? Is there any behavior you could change in yourself that might help your child feel more self-confident?
- Don't push! Shy children are by nature more anxious. The last thing they need is for a parent to push them into an activity too quickly. In fact, they often size things up and gain confidence by first watching. So let your child take time to check things out, settle in, and go at his own pace.
- Encourage "eyeball talking." A simple secret to help your toddler appear more confident (and less shy and anxious) is to use eye contact. It's not too early to teach a toddler the secret. Remember, children learn best by not telling but by showing. So as you're talking with your toddler calmly say, "Look at me." Or "Put your eyes on my eyes." Or "I want to see the color of your pretty eyes." By reinforcing the skill and modeling it regularly, your toddler will begin to use the secret without your coaching.
- Teach conversation starters. One way to help your little one feel more secure in a situation is to teach him simple first things to say or do. For instance, smile, shake hands, or say hello. Then take turns rehearsing them together over and over. You might help him practice "talking skills" with her stuffed animals, puppets, dolls, action figures or on a toy telephone. The more she practices the skills the more confident she will be using the skills on her own.
- Rehearse social situations. Prepare your kid for an upcoming social event by describing the setting, expectations, and the attendees. The secret is to downplay the situation. He doesn't need to know too much, but just enough to lower anxiety. "Your friend Sara will be there." "The mommy is going to have your favorite cake." "You can bring Teddy with you."
- Reinforce smiling! One of the most common characteristics of confident, well-liked kids is that they smile and smile. So whenever your little one displays a smile, reinforce it: "What a great smile!" Also, point out how your child's smile affects others: "That little boy saw your smile and came over to play. Your smile let him know you were friendly."
- Don't micromanage. Researchers found that parents who tend to gently encourage and loosely supervise their kid's social activities are more successful in boosting their friendship skills than parents who micromanage and supervise too closely. So watch yourself so you don't dictate the situation.
- Arrange one-on-one play opportunities. One of the best ways to help shy toddlers build social confidence is with "one-on-one play dates." This is a time when your child invites only one friend over for an hour or two of play to get to know one another. Turn off the television, and occupy other siblings. This is your child's turn to gain social skills.
- Don't label your child. One of the biggest reasons kids act shy is because they are labeled shy. Never let anyone-teacher, friend, relative, sibling, stranger, you-categorize your child as shy. And if by chance someone does, just calmly correct them. "No, he just likes to watch first."