Social development is a very important part of growing up. That’s why most parents are anxious to encourage their children to start being socially active at the earliest time possible. But not every child is a social butterfly; some stay in their cocoons a little while longer due to their shyness. When you have a shy child, it is important to nudge them to participate socially with love and care.
The biggest mistake that parents make when trying to ‘cure’ their child’s shyness is being too pushy about it. Shyness often stems from feelings of social anxiety. Forcefully pushing your child to play with others is similar to treating someone’s arachnophobia by pushing them into a room full of spiders. You will probably be worsening the situation by confirming their fears that social interactions are horrible and embarrassing. Nudge them in the right direction with love and subtlety.
One of the most effective ways of making your child more open to the idea of playing outside is to introduce them to other children on a singular basis. If you have a friend, or neighbour, with a similarly aged child, you can organise a play date. Playing with one person is easier for a ‘beginner’ than playing with a group of 20 kids. If they strike a rapport, your child might be more confident by venturing outside having already made a friend.
Another effective way of providing a safe space for your child to play outside is to organise for frequent family fun days in your yard or the local park. Your child is more likely to be more comfortable playing with their siblings and parents and with time, they will associate the outdoors with fun. With time, you can introduce other families to your extended family and let them get comfortable playing with their cousins. With time, they will be comfortable playing with other children.
You can also choose to create a fun environment in your home that will attract your neighbours’ kids. Children are more comfortable when they are approached with offers of companionship and friendship than when they have to do the approaching. Purchase group outdoor play sets, such as the Santa Maria playset which will increase your child’s popularity in the neighbourhood. This might just be the confidence boost that they needed to kick-start their social life.
If your child spends most of their time indoors watching TV or reading, find out what makes them happy and introduce it as an outdoors activity. If they love soccer on TV, buy them a soccer kit and a ball and let them loose in your backyard. With a little encouragement, you might find them joining other kids when they have a kick about. If your child likes music shows, take them to child-friendly shows and concert in your locality. Meeting other kids that share his/her passion is the best way for your child to form their initial friend group.
You can also make an effort to involve their teacher if they are already enrolled in preschool. Find out how your child interacts with others in different settings. You can even work on a two-pronged approach to gently encourage your child to be more interactive with their peers.
Most young children want to be made to feel important. You can take advantage of this enthusiasm to help by including them in your outdoor chores. Have them accompany you as you do some gardening or lawn mowing. Maybe after they spend a bit of time outdoors with you they can get the courage to play outside with others.
Take your child and a close friend to a playground, or install a play set in your yard. Try the Compact Double Swing which can hold two children. They can take turns playing on the swing, and as they play together, they can warm up to each other. As your child gets more comfortable, you can invite a neighbour or relative’s child to play with them. The play set acts as an icebreaker which holds their attention and distracts them from their unease.
The most important thing is to avoid labelling your child as ‘shy’. This gives them an excuse to avoid social interactions since they believe that they are meant to be permanently shy. Also, don’t panic, it just might be a phase that will end as time passes by. Most adults admit that they were much shyer earlier in life but are now well socially adjusted. Shyness is not the end of the world for your child. Be supportive and encouraging to your child.