Helping them overcome shyness

Learning to socialise ... Shyness can be overcome.
Learning to socialise ... Shyness can be overcome. 

Dear Kimberley,

Our son, Duke (5) is painfully shy. He has never enjoyed playgrounds or parties if there are other people present.

We watch him playing confidently when he’s the only one on the equipment and as soon as another child arrives, older or younger, he withdraws and wants to leave. I knew this would be an issue when he started Kindergarten this year and predictably, his teacher has now mentioned Duke’s shyness after only two weeks of school.

Do you have any suggestions to boost our boys confidence? He is in his element at home, but always ill at ease when we socialize ... so, sadly, as a family, we often avoid seeing friends!

Renata, Melbourne, Vic.

Dear Renata,

This is a common scenario.

Children who need to practice their social skills are often very good at avoiding social opportunities. Adults do this too, because no one likes to feel uncomfortable and easiest option is often to exit.

However, the easier option is not the best option when developing social confidence. As parents, it is important to model positive interactions at every opportunity with other children, parents and anyone else you encounter in your community. Children’s social skills are initially learnt by watching their parents interact with others and later developed through trial and error with other children.

Here’s a plan to help Duke extend his comfort zone over the coming weeks:

Step One: Ensure you and your partner feel comfortable socializing in at least one child-friendly location.
Step Two: Invite Duke to come along for a very short play (2-5 minutes) and be sure to say hello to other parents, play beside other children in the sandpit and take your time to warm up if you are feeling shy. Give Duke a running commentary, eg: “Oh that boy looks nice. I might sit in the sandpit too”.

Step Three: Develop a plan with Duke to explain you will be practicing ‘saying hello’, ‘making eye contact’ and ‘waving’ to people. Make it a game and tally points for each attempt. Waving to people from the safety of your car may be an easier option for Duke. Give him 2 bonus points if someone waves back.

Build up to play dates overtime, starting with a casual play in the school grounds after school.

Aim to make it a weekly occurrence when Duke is ready, and if there is very little progress consider a developmental assessment and/or a social skills program, such as The Best of Friends at Quirky Kid.

Useful resources are I’m Shy and How to be a Friend.

Kimberley O'Brien is one of Australia's most trusted and recognized Child Psychologists with a knack for solving issues from the child's perspective. She is currently Principal Psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic in NSW.



Children who need to practice their social skills are often very good at avoiding social opportunities.