I was painfully shy as a kid. I was so shy that when we went to my granny’s house for dinner, I’d hide behind my mom when we got up to the front door. Every. Week. I struggled with making new friends my entire life because I was just so scared to talk to other kids. I would feel paralyzed by the anxiety of it.
As I got a bit older, junior high and high school age, my shyness came across as snobbishness. I was not a snob. I never believed I was better than anyone. If anything, I felt like they were better than me. I wanted desperately to talk to so many of the kids at school, but didn’t know how to find the courage. No one had ever talked to me about it or encouraged me.
I see a lot of those parts of myself in my 3 year old. I just want to grab her into a big momma-bear hug when I can see those butterflies in her belly.
And I want so badly for her to find her courage early on. I believe the sooner she learns how to talk to and make friends with new kids, the easier it will be in the long run.
My husband is the exact opposite of me. He has no trouble talking to anyone. He has always been the life-of-the-party type and I’ve always been the wallflower type. We are so opposite in so many ways – which is what I think makes us work so well together.
But he doesn’t understand shyness. He gets frustrated when we are at a playground and Miss S doesn’t talk to or play with other kids. Now, please understand, he doesn’t express his frustration to her. Just to me and in private. But because he doesn’t understand shyness, he doesn’t understand how to help a shy kid find her courage.
And I’m thinking there are many outgoing, extroverted parents who are like that too.
So, from a former shy child and a now shy adult, here are some secrets to helping a shy kid make friends.
Always approach the subject lovingly and with patience.
Nothing will make a shy kid turn further inward like feeling that someone is frustrated with her or that she has disappointed her parents. Don’t ever berate or scold your shy kid for being shy. Helping her to understand that it is ok to be shy is the first step. Some even recommend not using the word shy, but I’m not that strict about it.
I explain to my daughter that we are all different in many ways. Some people are short and others are tall. Some people like chocolate ice cream best and others like vanilla. Some people are shy and others are outgoing. Neither is right or wrong, good or bad. Just different.
Talk her through it.
While it is completely natural for an outgoing kid to walk up to another kid and say “You wanna play?!”, that’s not true for a shy kid. Her intuition and instincts don’t compel her to do that. In fact, she probably wants to play very badly, but is simply unsure of how to make it happen.
When you know you’re shy one will be around other kids, take some time beforehand to casually and lovingly talk her through what to do if she wants to play with them. It may seem silly to explain to a kid that all she has to do is walk up and say “Hi I’m <insert name>. What’s your name? Wanna be my friend?” But it really does help to give them ideas.
Celebrate her bravery.
But don’t go over-the-top. Shy kids are often embarrassed by an over-the-top celebration. Instead, try talking about how much fun she had and asking her if she was glad she asked that kid to play. Make the connection that her courage to talk to the other kids resulted in a fun time.
Be her best role model.
This one is super tough for a shy parent like me. But I know for a fact that it works for my daughter. I go out of my way to talk to other moms while my daughter is around so that she sees me doing what we talk about.
Of course, I don’t say “Hi! My name is Laura! Wanna be my friend?!” (can you even imagine?!). But I do try to make it a grown-up version of that. If we are at a large picnic or festival, I’ll go against my shy instincts and ask another family if they’d like to sit with us (picnic tables are always in high demand at those things!) and I’ll introduce myself and chat a bit. I make the effort to talk to the other moms at gymnastics or swimming lessons or soccer. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone is worth it to help my kiddo find her courage.
Don’t give up, but don’t push too hard either.
I know that after a few outings that ended up with your kid playing alone or just near other kids instead of with other kids you might feel like it’s not worth the trouble of getting everyone together and out of the house. After all, she can play by herself at home and you can get some laundry done!
But every time your shy kid is around other kids, she has another opportunity to stretch her friends-making muscles. You never know how much progress she’s making inside. Maybe she was thisclose last time and the next time will be it. Don’t give up on her. And know that she may never be the type of person who can walk up to people and strike up a conversation. That’s ok too. But at least you’ve given her some tools for when she’s ready.
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Do you have a shy kiddo? Were YOU a shy kid? How did you overcome shyness to make friends? What do you think of these tips?