Stop the Comparathon
It's never a good idea to compare your child to others, whether it's a more outgoing friend or an overachieving sibling. Instead, focus on what makes your child different and let her know how special that part of her personality is, says Lynne Milliner, a pediatrician with Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland. "That alone will help boost her confidence and make her more comfortable in front of others," she explains. So if your child isn't particularly athletic but loves to draw, sign her up for an art class where she can be around other kids with the same interest.
Watch Your Words
Talk about shyness as how your child feels, not who she is, says parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. For example, if your daughter is hiding behind your leg and refusing to say hello to Grandpa, you might be tempted to say something like, "Sorry, Grandpa. She's shy." Instead, tell your daughter, "You feel shy right now. That's OK -- you can say hello when you're ready." "It's a subtle difference, but saying 'You feel' is much better than saying 'You are,' because it names a momentary state, rather than the essence of your child's being," Payne Bryson says.
Show Her The Way
Be an example of friendliness in front of your child, says Sara Lise Raff, an educational consultant. For example, if you go to religious services each week, greet and introduce the celebrant to your child. At playdates, you can even engage her friends in small talk ("I love your new doll, Emily. What's her name?"). Kids love to mimic their parents' behavior, so seeing you at ease with others will show her there's nothing to fear.
Plan in Advance
Before you expose him to certain situations, explain in detail what you are going to do and what he is going to do, says Barack Levin, author of The Diaper Chronicles: A Stay-at-Home Dad's Quest for Raising Great Kids. For example, before going to a birthday party, you should tell him who's going to be there, what will be going on ("We're going to sing 'Happy Birthday' to AJ and eat some cake!"), what toys he might get to play with, etc. If it helps, have him bring something from home -- his favorite toy, for instance -- that will make him feel more secure when he gets there
Stick with Small Groups
Even a child who is usually outgoing can feel overwhelmed around larger groups of children, so for a toddler on the quiet side, a room full of screaming kids can be torture. At this stage, it's best to limit your child's playdates to only a few pals. Then, as your child starts to feel more comfortable around other tots, you can begin introducing her to other kids or sign her up for classes where there will be more children around.
Don't Push Too Hard
Research shows that kids whose parents push them too far, too quickly, end up withdrawing even more. "Because shy children feel uncertainty and anxiety in certain social situations, when parents force them to participate, it just makes them more anxious, making it less likely they'll be willing to give it a try the next time," says parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. If your child is insisting that he doesn't want to do something that feels terrifying to him, let him know you're there to make him feel safe, but don't force it.
But Don't Overprotect
On the other hand, says parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D, it's important that you give your child opportunities to succeed in new situations. "Help your little one take gentle steps in the direction of achievement and accomplishment. Freely use the phrase, 'I'll do it with you,' and say things like, 'I know it's hard (or you're uncomfortable), but I'll be with you. Let's just give it a try.' A gentle nudge might include saying, 'Let's just go take a look.'"
Compliment His Confidence
Even if it's a small step -- saying hi to the mail carrier -- be sure to let your child know how proud you are of his progress. "Every chance you have, and especially when your kid is next to you, comment on his newly acquired skills," says Barack Levin, author of The Diaper Chronicles: A Stay-at-Home Dad's Quest for Raising Great Kids.
Give Her Lots of Love
Parents need to make building a secure and loving attachment to their child a priority, which will in turn help their child develop self-esteem and confidence, says Renee Mosiman, a family therapist and coauthor of The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child's Intellectual Potential. Knowing that you're around to watch over her and lend a hand when needed will help your child feel comfortable being around others. So no matter what, be sure to shower your toddler with lots of hugs and kisses!
~Copyright © 2009 Meredith Corporation. Parents Magazine.