Shyness and kindergartners
As your child prepares to start kindergarten, behavior that seemed natural and even expected as a preschooler — tearful good-byes, a reluctance to join in group activities or to engage in conversation with new people — may become worrisome now. But although at times kindergartners can seem oh-so-grown-up, some are still just catching on to the rules of social interaction. And many children continue to be bashful — especially when faced with new situations.
Will my child always be shy?
Of course, shyness isn't always developmental. But the notion that a baby is born with specific personality traits is a relatively new one. Experts long believed that environment was primarily responsible for shaping a child's character. It's now believed that a child's behavior patterns are a result of both genetic and environmental influences. Thus, your kindergartner's temperament may predispose her to be wary of new situations and slow to warm up to the unfamiliar.
How can I encourage my shy kindergartner?
How you nurture your child at this age can boost her self-esteem. Rather than striving to change your 5-year-old, gently prepare her for any situation she's likely to find difficult. If your kindergartner tends to come unglued at noisy, crowded events like a birthday party, for instance, try preparing for the event by planning a mock party at home. Use a puppet to represent the shy child. You provide the dialogue for the shy puppet, and let your child be the parent. Her job: Help the shy puppet feel more comfortable in social situations. Another approach: Ask your child to articulate her "What if" fears about the event. Then brainstorm together for solutions. To further boost her confidence, consider role-playing each of the scenarios.
How can I prepare my shy child for kindergarten?
• Take your child for a classroom tour. She'll be more relaxed if she gets to spend some time in her classroom and meet the teacher before her first day. Also, show her the bathroom, her cubby, and the principal's office, so she'll feel more at ease in her new surroundings.
• Practice talking to other children and adults. Make a game of it: Ask your 5-year-old to be the tour guide when her best friend visits your house, or encourage her to place her own order at a restaurant. She'll not only become more comfortable with other people but also begin to understand the give-and-take of conversation. If she tends to whisper or mumble, her shyness may stem from the frustration of not being understood, which will subside as she becomes more articulate.
• Enlist an older sibling. If your shy child has a brother or sister in the same school, ask the older child to look out for the younger one. A friendly wave or a knowing glance — even if it's just in passing — can provide momentary respite from the fear of not fitting in.
• Create a good-bye ritual. Sneaking away when you think she won't notice can backfire — she may be upset that she didn't get to hug or kiss you before you left, and you could undermine her trust in you. Also, let her know when and where she can expect to be picked up (for instance, when the bell rings in the lunchroom). For more information about separation and independence, click here.
How can I help my shy child make friends?
Introduce her to one potential friend at a time. Don't expect much at the first meeting. It may take several short get-togethers before both children click. If your child can form an attachment with one child, she'll learn more about how to handle herself socially, and her friend will help her enter a larger group when the time comes. She may also benefit from playing with children of different ages. An older child can take the lead and break the ice, while a younger child may look up to your child, boosting her confidence.
What's wrong with labeling my child as shy?
It's rarely beneficial for a child to have a label attached to her, whether it's one that places undue pressure on her ("gifted," for instance), or one that excuses unsociable behavior ("Oh, she's just shy"). The fact is, she may not even think of herself shy. But say it often enough, and she'll come to believe it. Likewise, your kindergartner may not think that being shy is such a big deal — to her it's only natural — but if you talk about it as if it is, you'll send a message that suggests she has some sort of defect. Consider saying, "It takes her a little while to get comfortable in a new situation," instead of labeling her as shy.
If your child has already been labeled shy, try altering that self-image by letting her overhear something positive. When she's in earshot, discuss how friendly she has become or make a fuss over some effort she made to be social. It's equally important to encourage relatives, family friends, and teachers to avoid labeling.
Should I seek professional help?
For the best gauge of your child's ability to socialize, look to her friends. Does she have any? Does she talk about them? If she always seems to be alone, ask her teacher about it. It's possible that you don't see those moments when she's happily interacting. If, however, they agree that your child is having more trouble socializing than most kids her age, talk to your child's pediatrician, who may suggest a developmental evaluation.