How to Help Shy Preschooler

Question: My preschooler is very shy. She is afraid of meeting new people and always hides behind my skirt. Although she talks quite a lot at home, in new situations she tends to become as silent as a clam. I've always been rather shy and don't want her to follow in my footsteps. How can I help her overcome her shyness? -- Too Shy

Answer: Believe it or not, it's definitely not unusual for preschoolers to be shy. Approximately one-third of them are shy according to Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology of Stanford University, who has devoted considerable time to studying shyness. The good news is, with time, children learn to handle new situations and deal with unfamiliar people, and shyness fades for most children.

Fortunately, there are things that parents can do to minimize children's shyness in many situations, especially school. Here are some tactics that can be used to help shy preschoolers:

  • -Have the child play one-on-one in your home with a slightly younger child to practice social skills and take on a leadership role.
  • -Ask friends and relatives to talk to your child about his/her interests so the child will become more comfortable talking to adults.
  • -Encourage your child's sense of humor. People respond well to those who laugh and smile.
  • -Enroll your child in a library program or other program with a sibling or close neighborhood friend to help him/her feel comfortable in a group situation.
  • -Try to have your child play in your home with children in his/her preschool class so the child will feel more at home with classmates.
  • -Play-act with your child social situations that he/she will frequently encounter, such as greeting people and saying goodbye to them.
  • -Encourage your child to order in restaurants, and let the child purchase things in stores so he/she becomes accustomed to getting a message across to others. You can play-act these situations to give the child confidence.
  • -Be a model of friendliness to other people to show your child how to interact with others.
  • -Compliment your child so he/she will learn how good it feels. And encourage the child to give compliments in return.  

If your child seems excessively shy, we recommend that you read "The Shy Child: Overcoming and Preventing Shyness From Infancy to Adulthood." It will provide you with more detailed strategies for combating shyness and teaching your young child to be a social being.