The Shy Preschooler

Shyness in children is expected up to a point. Since toddlers have relatively little experience at interacting with others, parents usually don't worry when their two-year-old wants to stick near them in unfamiliar social settings. However, when your preschooler continues to exhibit shy behavior, you may begin to fear that your child will be a wallflower forever. But shyness in preschoolers isn't necessarily something to fret over.

Nature vs. Nurture
Until recently, it was thought that shyness stemmed from various environmental factors, such as particular parenting styles that encouraged shyness. However, child experts have begun to recognize the validity of various studies, which have shown that certain children are naturally more likely to be shy. Other experts believe that anxiety over social situations in children may stem from a combination of environmental factors and a natural disposition to being bashful.

Regardless of the reason, the fact remains that for many preschoolers, new social situations can be quite stressful. Although your preschooler may be extremely outgoing and talkative at home, once he steps outside, he clams up and tries to hide behind you whenever someone wants to talk to him.

While your preschooler may not be a baby anymore, he is still learning how to socialize and interact with others which can be overwhelming at times. Even as an adult, new social situations can occasionally be intimidating and you yourself may be given to moments of shyness. Remembering your own bashful experiences can help you sensitively deal with your preschooler's shyness.

Just How Shy
Not all children experience the same level of shyness. Some preschoolers may be so shy that they choose to avoid certain events while others may need a few minutes or more to get acquainted with their environment. Once they've warmed up to the situation, they have no problems joining in and playing with other children. While shyness can usually be overcome with some practice, there are times when you may need to enlist professional help.

When a child is so shy that she has troubles forming relationships with people outside of her immediate family, there is cause for worry. But before you get over anxious, talk to other people who have frequent contact with your child. Her teacher or regular baby-sitter may see her interacting with children more than you do. While it may appear to you as though she has no friends, your daughter may very well have lots of acquaintances at her daycare. However, if she truly has no friends, make an appointment with her doctor to discuss the issue as it could be a sign of more serious problems.

Overcoming the Wallflower Blues
Helping your preschooler get over his anxiety of new social settings is important. Extreme shyness can cause him to have difficulties later in life. While it is important to encourage your child to experience new situations, avoid forcing him to go somewhere he doesn't want to go. Placing too much pressure on him to change his ways may actually make the problem worse and make him more resistant to try new things in the future.

One of the best ways to ease your child's anxiety is by preparing her for an upcoming event. If she is going to be starting school soon, then drive past the school a few times in the week leading up to her first day and tell her "This is the school you're going to go to next week." If you can, take a tour of her classroom a day or two before her first day so that she can familiarize herself with the new setting and meet her new teacher. You may also want to advise the teacher of your daughter's shyness and suggest ways that may help her feel more comfortable in the classroom. You can also try role playing games or setting up mock events in your home to help your little one feel more comfortable in different situations.

For children that are only shy in particular situations, for example at birthday parties, lay out some ground rules so that they don't hide behind you every time. Be sure to explain your shyness prevention policy to him ahead of time and then again as you are on your way to the event. This way, your son knows that he can stay near you for the first five minutes but after that it's time to start venturing out on his own. And while you may be tempted to sneak out the back door when he's not looking, your son will most likely feel abandoned when he realizes that you're gone. It's a better idea to simply say good-bye with little fanfare, just a simple kiss or hug before heading out through the front door.

It is also a good idea to avoid calling your child "shy". Since shyness is often viewed as a negative personality trait, placing this label on your child may cause her to feel worse. Additionally, since shyness can be associated with self-doubt and low self-esteem, it is important to make positive comments to your child that will bolster her self-opinion. And don't forget to listen when your preschooler talks to you. Knowing that what she has to say is important to you will help her feel more comfortable opening up. Encourage her to discuss any fears she might have and share your own stories of times when you felt scared or shy.

Although extreme shyness can cause problems later in life, a person who is shy is also more likely to be sensitive, empathetic and very observant of other people. Because a shy child is more likely to pay attention to your behavior, make sure you set a good example for your preschooler in your social relations. Before you know it, the loving, funny, talkative and outgoing child you see at home will start to show up outside the home, too.

It may help to talk about shyness with other moms. Chat in our online forum.