“You go ahead without me.” “I’m afraid to raise my hand.” “I’d rather be by myself.” What do you do if you have an extremely shy child? A son who looks like he's in pain when another kids tries to have a simple conversation...a daughter who stares at the ground when she's introduced to someone new. Kids who hang back are handicapped from experiencing life to its fullest. Shy kids curtail their experiences, don’t take the necessary social risks, and as a result don’t gain confidence in social situations. Not being able to join a group and make new friends will haunt them the rest of their lives. Finally, the pain of social rejection will set in. The good news is that we can help kids feel more comfortable in groups by enhancing and practicing the skills of social competence.
Tips to Help Shy Kids Feel More Comfortable in Social Settings
Use the following five tips to help your kid gain confidence in social settings:
1. Encourage eye contact. As you’re talking with your child say, “ Look at me.” or “Put your eyes on my eyes.” or “I want to see your eyes.” By consciously reinforcing the skill and modeling it regularly, your child will soon be using eye contact. Tip: If your kid is uncomfortable about using eye contact, tell her to look at the bridge of the speaker’s nose. With a few practices, she usually no longer needs the technique, and will look more confidently into the speaker’s eyes.
2. Teach conversational openers and closers. Make a list with your kid of easy conversation openers he can use with different groups of people such as: what he could say to someone he already knows, an adult he hasn’t met, a friend he hasn’t seen in a while, a brand-new student at a school, or a child he’d like to play with on the playground. Then take turns rehearsing them together, until your child feels comfortable trying them on his own. Hint: Practicing conversation skills on the telephone with a supportive listener on the other end is always less threatening for shyer kids than doing so face-to-face.
3. Rehearse social situations. Prepare your kid for an upcoming social event by describing the setting, expectations, and the attendees. Then help him practice how to meet others, table manners, basic conversational skills, and even how to say good-bye gracefully.
4. Practice skills with younger peers. Philip Zimbardo, renowned shyness expert, recommends pairing older shy kids with younger children for brief play periods. So create opportunities for your kid to play with one other child who is younger: a younger sibling, cousin, neighbor, or one of your friend’s younger kids. For teens, try baby-sitting: it’s a great way for a shy kid to earn money as well as practice social skills–starting a conversation, using eye contact–that she was reticent about trying with kids her age.
5. Arrange One-On-One Play Opportunities. Dr. Fred Frankel, a psychologist and developer of the world famous UCLA Social Skills Training Program, suggests “one-on-one play dates” as the best way for kids to build social confidence. This is a time when your kid invites only one child over for a couple of private play hours to get to know one another and practice friendship-making skills. Provide snacks and then try to keep interruptions to a minimum: siblings should not be included and television viewing should not be a play option.