My first born has a tendency to be by shy and cautious with every new situation, even to the point of having a mild anxiety if I gave him too much notice about a new experience. During my career at Wondertree Kids, I have met many, many children who are shy or “slow to warm up,” meaning they are uneasy or cautious in new situations or with unfamiliar people. As a baby, my son didn’t like being held by just anyone; he wanted to be cuddled by only a few special, trusted people. As a toddler, he would often stay on the “sidelines” for a while, watching what others are doing until he felt comfortable enough to join in. They were many difficult transitions that brought tears to both of us, first day of preschool, first day of kindergarten, first day of camp, a doctor’s appointment, a party, a new class. I would have to navigate each situation very cautiously as to not to upset him.
Every child is born with his own way of approaching the world, which we call “temperament.” A child’s approach to new situations and unfamiliar people is one very important temperament characteristic. The fact is that some children are naturally more comfortable in new situations and jump right in, whereas others are more cautious and need time and support from caring adults to feel safe in unfamiliar situations. At the same time, these children are often very careful observers who learn a lot from what they see, and who may be more inclined to think through situations before they act—an important skill.
Temperament is not something your child chooses, nor is it something that you created. There is not a “right” or “wrong” or “better” or “worse” temperament. But temperament is a very important factor in your child’s development because it shapes the way she experiences and reacts to the world. A child who is cautious and a child who jumps right in are likely to have very different experiences going to a new social experience, like a music class, for example, and will need different kinds of support from you. You will most always notice this temperament come into play under the two conditions:
- Coping with new people and experiences
- Coping with change
Here are some tried and tested tips to help a child with this type of temperament that we have learned through years of experience at Wondertree Kids!
- Provide an entry strategy.Help your child approach a group of peers and listen, allowing everyone some time to get used to one another. Teach them to find a break in the chatting and join in. Offer talking points beforehand, such as, “I like boats, too.”
- Build confidence.Remind her of a time when she was in new situations and got through it. When going to a birthday party, for example, bring up another party you went to and how much fun she had with the other children.
- Work on social skills.Give your child chances to practice his social skills whenever you can. In the store, encourage him to pay the cashier. At dinner, have them order his own meal. Invite a friend over to play so your child can get more practice being with peers.
- Offer feedback.Praise or reward your little one for small steps, like saying “hi” or waving. If they freeze up in front of someone, talk about it. Discuss things she can try next time.
- Express empathy.Tell your child that you can see they’re feeling shy, and that you feel that way too sometimes. Share stories about times when you overcame your own shyness.
- Be First! Another great tip is if you are going into a group situation, like a music class for instance, try to be the first one there! Nothing harder for a shy child then coming late to a party. I always tell parents at Wondertree Kids who express that their child was slow to warm up, that next time if they come early – it will be a different experience!
- Model outgoing behavior.When you show your child how to greet people, converse, and be friendly, she gets more comfortable doing the same.
Above all, show love and acceptance. It’s okay to be shy, I am shy and I am doing okay, well except if you put me in a new situation of course! 🙂