Q. My Child is very shy around new people and people he doesn’t see very often. I’m worried about holiday parties, visiting Santa, and out-of-town guests. How can I help him overcome his shyness?
A. Shyness is a normal experience for many children. Some children are naturally more reserved and slower to warm up to new situations. Children who tend to be shy may be anxious or inhibited in unfamiliar situations or when they feel they are on display. The holidays can be full of unfamiliar situations, but there are things you can do to alleviate some of this anxiety for your child.
Kids can learn to manage shyness with a little extra support from their parents. It is important to empathize with your child’s shyness and avoid labeling this characteristic as a problem. Acknowledging how the child feels, without negative judgment, allows him to feel good about himself. If a child is made to believe there is something wrong with shyness, he may begin to feel worse about himself and therefore be even more insecure and withdrawn from others. Try comments like: “I notice you sometimes feel shy or are unsure when in a new place or situation. A lot of kids and adults feel that way, too. Tell me about what it is like for you to be in a new situation.” Focus on preparing your child for new or stressful social situations by talking about them ahead of time and teaching strategies for dealing with shyness. “Let’s spend some time chatting about the visit to Santa this weekend. There will be a lot of people and it might feel overwhelming. What do you think might help if you start to feel nervous?”
Before family comes to town for the holiday, talk to your child about his relatives and some topics that he might be able to discuss with them. Remind him of positive things he has done throughout the year to prepare him for catching up. Talk with your child about things he might like to do while the guests are in town to give him something to look forward to. Give your child jobs to do such as handing out snacks or setting the dinner table. Focusing on finishing the task will help him feel more positive about himself and the situation.
Sometimes parents ask kids to, Give your uncle a hug! Say thank you! Or Give a kiss to your aunt. Instead, allow kids to decide how and when they show affection to relatives. It is important for children to have an opportunity to decide their own boundaries for affection. And if saying the words “thank you” aloud in a group is difficult, explore whether he would like to write a note or call the relative later when the pressure is off.
Before attending a holiday party, talk with your child about handling the normal nervousness that he might experience in an unfamiliar situation. Brainstorm ways to handle the shyness before entering the party. “Sometimes it takes you a little while to warm up to a new situation. If you feel nervous at the party today, what do you think would help you feel more comfortable?” Help him explore ways to initiate conversation with other kids and adults. Discuss specific topics and questions he could use during the party: “Your cousin Tom also does karate, I wonder if he likes it as much as you do.” Preparation and supportive coaching will allow you and your child to feel more comfortable during this holiday season.