Last week I shared about how we deal with Coco’s separation anxiety, and this week Kelly is here to weigh in on helping your shy child become more comfortable around their peers. She has some really awesome advice, and I know I’ve already learned something from this post.
Please welcome Kelly and go check out her blog when you’re finished here.
5 Ways to Help Your Shy Kid Get Confident
My 6-year-old Abby was invited to a birthday party a couple weekends ago.
When we got to the party, she didn’t know many kids there. So she stood next to us and her 1-year-old baby sister, watching everyone else have fun.
After about 15 minutes of listening to our boring adult talk of work and errands to run and whether we could sneak some of the party food for ourselves, Abby looked up at me.
“What should I do?” she asked.
Her eyes, they killed me. The longing to play, and the fear holding her back. What if they don’t play with me? What if they don’t talk to me? What if they don’t like me?
“Well,” I started. “You could go play with those girls.” I pointed to some kids playing ring toss.
“Okay,” she said.
She wasn’t convinced.
Still, she walked over to the game.
And stood on the sidelines.
I wanted to run up and whisper in her ear to go for it, jump right in. Give her a gentle nudge in the right direction.
But I’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work.
5 Ways to Help Your Introverted Child Come out of Their Shell
Over the years, I’ve learned what does work with my shy girl. Once upon a time, I was a painfully shy girl myself. So drawing on that experience helps.
But I’ve also come across invaluable advice in various books and articles and blog posts.
Here is a list of the top five tricks that have helped me guide my introverted kid through tough situations. If you have a slow-to-warm child too, try these tips and let me know what works for you!
1. Pick a Flower
At breakfast one Sunday morning, our 1-year-old Bailey was doing laps around the breakfast table while the rest of us devoured blueberry pancakes.
Bailey ran into a chair, fell on her butt, and popped right back up again without missing a beat.
“She just never stops,” my husband said.
“Was I like that when I was a baby?” Abby asked.
“No, you liked to sit still and organize the pantry.” I laughed.
Abby dropped her head to her chest. “I wanna be like Bailey.”
“That’s not possible, honey,” I said. “You are two different people. Even twins aren’t exactly alike in every way.”
But Abby didn’t perk up.
I got up and went to the bookshelf, grabbed Baby Hearts, and came back to the table.
“Abby, I need to read something to you.” I flipped to the section on how babies are born with distinct personalities that typically fall into four categories. “I want you to listen for what sounds like you and what sounds like Bailey.”
- Baby Sunflower – These babies always seem happy. They love to smile and love other people. This can be a challenge as they get older and don’t understand boundaries to keep them safe.
- Baby Holly – Babies with this personality can seem prickly. Any seemingly little thing can set them off. But once you get under their prickly exterior, it’s well worth it.
- Baby Orchid – These babies are slow to warm up to new people and situations. They like to observe before jumping in.
- Baby Dandelion – The dandelion baby is everywhere at once. They are always on the move, and their parents are always tired.
Abby identified with the Baby Orchid, and she picked Baby Dandelion for her little sister.
We talked about how everybody is different, and that’s what makes the world fun.
“If everyone were the same, we’d be like the Borg!” I said.
You can get a copy of Baby Hearts to read from or just talk about different personalities. Our ongoing conversations on this topic have helped Abby come to a place of acceptance about her personality.
2. Use This Magic Phrase
A few years ago, I volunteered as a mentor to a small group of girls in a second-grade classroom.
In the volunteer training, the educators running the program taught us a concept I’d never heard before: fixed versus growth mindset.
Children who have a fixed mindset believe that you are as smart as you’ll ever be. You can’t change how smart you are, no matter how hard you try. And you can’t change your personality or how creative you are.
On the other hand, children with a growth mindset believe that if you work hard, you can become smarter. You can even change your personality.
But here’s the part that blew my mind: More than 20 years of research shows that the key to success in school and life is having a growth mindset. These kids have the greatest capacity for happiness in life.
Even better, you can cultivate the growth mindset in your child, and it can help them cope with their shy tendencies.
Anytime you notice your kid dipping a toe in the water, comment on the effort it took them.
For example, at the birthday party, when Abby went and stood by the girls playing ring toss, I walked up to her after a couple minutes and whispered this in her ear:
“You were feeling nervous about walking up to some kids you didn’t know. But you did. I can tell you’re trying hard.”
She smiled. And took a step closer to the girls.
3. Play Pretend
One situation where Abby tends to get stressed out is when we’re out in public and we run into someone my husband or I know.
The other adult will focus on Abby early in the conversation, say hi, and ask her a question.
Abby crawls into her turtle shell and doesn’t answer.
Typically, the person will take that as a cue to try harder. And Abby crawls in further.
It’s stressful for Abby, plus the adult is baffled as to why this adorable child is snubbing them.
Most of all, Abby hates that the person keeps staring at her and waiting for her to answer, when she doesn’t feel comfortable in the first place.
I explained to Abby that if she gives a quick “hi” back right away, the person will usually go back to talking to us and leave her alone.
And then we practiced. Abby loves to role-play situations like this, and it’s what the experts recommend too.
Anytime she’s feeling nervous or uncomfortable, we talk about it, and then we act it out together.
4. Share Your Pain
Kids love stories.
And they love to hear those stories over and over again. Even crappily written stories that make you want to gouge your eyes out with a LEGO.
Use this to your advantage.
Tell stories from your childhood – or even your adult life – of when you felt shy or nervous in social situations. Talk about how you felt. How you coped. Tricks you learned.
Shoot, make up stories if you have to.
When you tell a story, it gives your child an opportunity to see themselves in the story. Something will click for your kid in a way that coaching or lecturing just can’t accomplish.
5. Find a Token
Have you seen Big Daddy? The little boy is nervous about starting school, so Adam Sandler’s character puts sunglasses on the boy and tells him with those on, he’s invisible. Which is brilliant, and it works like a charm.
You can totally rip that off if it works for your kid.
Or come up with your own special token. When Abby started kindergarten, I found us matching bracelets that we both wore for the first few weeks.
You could plant an orchid in your front yard as a reminder of the Baby Orchid personality.
Maybe hang something in your child’s room that reminds them of how it takes all kinds in this world, like this disgustingly adorable cat print. Or hang a saying that gives them courage.
What Works for You?
If you have a shy kid, how do you help them come out of their shell?
Kelly is a recovering perfectionist, she procrastinates, and she’s constantly tripping over her own feet. In the plus column, she’s really good at making spreadsheets and eating baked goods.
At her blog The (Reformed) Idealist Mom, Kelly shares her struggles against that mean old witch Perfection and celebrates the “good enough.” Subscribe here to learn how to handle your kid’s temper tantrum like a ninja badass, whether you’re making a HUGE mistake every night at the dinner table, a magic trick for taking your kids shopping with no whining, and more.