Helping You Deal With Your Toddler’s Shyness
Over spring break, my older cousin and his family came out to San Diego to visit. Aside from being excited to see my cousin, who was always more like a brother than a cousin, I was overjoyed to see his two kids, both of whom are under the age of five and hardly know me. Given that I see his kids usually only twice a year and that they are both at ages where strangers make them uncomfortable, his kids have a tendency to clam up quickly when in their distant family member’s presence. In fact his oldest, Hannah, not only instantly ducked her head into her daddy’s shoulder when I said hello, but wouldn’t talk to me until two days after they’d come to visit.
This, in contrast to the two young cousins who live in the same city as me, and my cousin’s wife was panicking slightly, worrying if her kids would ever be as comfortable around their extended family to exchange more than a handful of glances. Knowing a thing about the toddler age group, I attempted to lull my cousin’s concerns about her children, insisting that shyness is something they’re likely to grow out of—at least to an extent. This tied in with the fact that she mentioned that it’s not something that suddenly occurred and rather was shyness noticed over the past several years, and I begged her not to worry. Some toddlers, I explained, are naturally quiet in social situations. Some even grow up to be quiet adults, comfortable in their introspective personalities, which is perfectly normal and often not something to ever be concerned with. However, for parents unsure of their child’s inability to hold eye contact with friends and family, or for those kids who have problems with verbal communication there are some tips and tricks to put to use to help assuage the problems.
Take a good look at where your child’s shyness might be coming from. Are you uncomfortable in social situations? Perhaps your spouse is? Preschoolers, similar to sponges, soak up everything about their surroundings, and even more than that they soak up everything they see their parents do—including their personalities. If you’re in social situations that make you anxious, try to refrain from setting an example of nervousness for your child. Rather, work on your own anxiety and tackle the situation head on. Consider having your child go to play-groups, birthday-parties, or daycares and go a step further and break out of your shell by offering to help chaperone, leaving you to interact with your surroundings in front of your child, while setting a good example in the mean time.
If there’s one thing we as adults have learned, it’s that labeling doesn’t do anyone any good. Particularly with toddlers who happen to be shy, labeling them with a term that insinuates a shortcoming can be even more damaging to their already heightened anxiety levels. While your toddler might be called shy by their fellow preschoolers at their preschool San Diego—an issue your preschool San Diego teacher is sure to help with—cutting the terminology from their home life might help further compound the problem in their minds, and bring them confidence where they’re lacking.
As I mentioned above, getting involved in your child’s social life (especially for those parents who happen to have social-anxiety and shyness of their own) can help get your child outside of their mind and stop them from thinking too much about the situation. While your child might initially feel anxious about being put in social situations, you—as the parent—need to do what is best for them. While you should really be careful to take note of things that might be genuinely upsetting for them, putting them in social situations that make them only mildly uncomfortable is not a terrible thing. Invite some of their preschool San Diego classmates over one weekend and start the interactions on a territory your child is familiar with, and then eventually venture outside of their known world.
Whatever the cause behind your child’s shyness, just remember that it is entirely normal for this age group and neither is it likely a permanent problem your child will deal with. Approaching their anxiety with delicacy and an appreciation for what makes them uncomfortable will help leave your children in hands they are not only comfortable with, but trust entirely as well.