Is Your Child Shy?

Written by: David Gottlieb

Is your child shy and not have any friends to play with?

Parents sometimes worry that their shy child will have trouble making friends in school or will feel isolated and unhappy in school. Studies of shy children indicate that there are genetic and environmental causes of shyness, and that gradual exposure to social situations can help children become less shy. How can you help your child develop friendships without overwhelming him?

Can the teacher help with the initial contact?: Ask the teacher if your child has talked with any of the other children in class, or if there is another shy child your child might get along with. Then see if the teacher will encourage your child to work with the other student on a project together. It is often easier for a shy child to interact with one child at a time, rather than a large group.

Can you help with the initial contact?: Or will the teacher give you the phone number for other parents whose children your child seems interested in? Before you call, ask your child if he would like to play with this child. If your child has a very negative response (more than just being unsure) then hold off. Ask your child if there is anyone else he would like to play with. Explain you will call the other parent if he wants. Or is there a family in the neighborhood that you could invite over so that your child can get to know the other children while you get to know the other parents. The idea is to help your child by making the initial contact.

Are there structured activities your child would like to join?: If there is a sports team or art or music program your child is interested in, then he may get to know other children by seeing them regularly after school in these kinds of activities. You will also get to meet the parents when you pick up your child at the end of the activity and may be able to facilitate a get-together (like going out to dinner together after the activity).

Your child might have fears of being rejected: Ask your child what is the worst thing that could happen if he talks with someone in school. Be empathic about any worry he mentions, but also help him think through what the chances are that this would happen (some children have “catastrophic expectations”) and how he could handle it.

Be patient: Don’t put too much pressure on your child to initiate because it could cause your child to worry that he is not pleasing you. If your child does not make a friend in the coming months, feel free to check with your teacher or school social worker to see if they have suggestions, or consider a consultation with a mental health professional. Sometimes there are significant anxiety issues or social skill deficits that can be addressed with professional help.

For more information, visit my blog,, where I respond to parents' questions about handling anger and defiance.  

Posted on October 11, 2013 at 8:38 PM