Making friends in school is a milestone that every parent wants to see their children achieve.
When your children have a pal or two inside their classrooms, you can be sure they have someone to talk to and play with during their breaks. You can have peace of mind that they won’t be lonely or feel left out whenever they are in school.
However, if your kids tend to be shy, their ability to make friends will be hampered. No matter how badly they want to have a constant companion inside the classroom, if they are a bit withdrawn and bashful, they will have difficulties socialising and forming bonds with their peers.
Before you encourage your kids to socialise more, if your little ones tend to be shy around other children, it would be best to help them overcome their bashfulness first. Here are some tips for doing so:
1. Avoid labelling your kids as “shy”
Although shy or timid may be the best words to describe your children, do not call them as such.
Keep in mind that labelling kids as shy can reinforce their tendencies to become more introverted or withdrawn. As such, you have to be more careful about what you say or how you describe them.
To pull out your kids from their shyness, be more optimistic. If you see that there is an opportunity for them to make new friends at the playground, don’t immediately assume they will run away. Instead, ask them if they are feeling brave today and if they want to try playing with other kids.
If you remember a situation where they had fun playing with other children, remind them of that particular instance and tell them how proud you were of that time and that you would love to see them experience that again.
2. Have the kids practise interacting with others at home
Since you have two or more kids that tend to be shy, teaching them how to interact with others can be easier.
Create role-playing games with your children about different social situations. This can be about making new friends at school or being invited to a birthday party.
Have your kids switch roles so that they can experience the two sides of the social equation. For instance, one of your children can play the part of the celebrant, and the other, the guest. After they understand how to act in such a situation, have them reverse characters.
Try to have your kids engage in these role-playing games as often as possible since repetition will help them become more prepared and confident when they are placed in different social situations.
3. Help your children discover and use their strengths
Many kids tend to become withdrawn because they do not feel confident. Helping them pinpoint their strengths can boost their self-esteem and enable them to come out of their shell.
Once you know what your kids are good at, give them opportunities to engage in these activities. For example, if they love playing sports such as football, have them join a club or take them to a playing field regularly.
If your children are unsure of what they are good at, point out the positive qualities they have. For instance, if they always come up with beautiful drawings or paintings, tell them that they have a talent for this and display some of their works at home.
4. Avoid pressuring your children
Regardless of the situation, do not force your kids to do something they don’t want to do. If they don’t want to greet a neighbour or another child, avoid telling them off in front of other people.
Doing this can cause them to feel more embarrassed and even ashamed. It can give them heightened anxiety levels as well.
In such instances, it is best to dismiss this behaviour and provide an explanation that will get the kids to engage a bit.
For example, you can say to the other person that the children are a bit tired from travelling and will warm up a later. Ask them if they feel worn out; whatever their answer is, when they nod or say something, be happy that they engaged in the conversation.
Once you are alone with your kids, you can remind them about your role-playing games at home. Additionally, explain to them again why it is nice to greet other people.
5. Reinforce their confident behaviour
Lastly, whenever you see your children demonstrate self-confidence, such as talking to other kids in the playground, try to avoid gushing immediately about their efforts. If you draw attention to that moment, your little ones may feel embarrassed and avoid replicating this action.
Tell them you are proud of what they did when there are no other people around. Consider rewarding them with something simple as well. Placing a star sticker or drawing a smiley face on their hand can help them become more motivated to do the same again in the future.
Regardless of how quickly or slowly your kids overcome their shyness, avoid worrying too much about their progress. Continue reinforcing and rewarding positive changes in their behaviour, and soon you will see them grow and become more confident and friendly social butterflies inside and outside the classroom.
Ayesha Hoda is a marketing and communications specialist working at Step By Step Nursery Group in the UAE. She holds an MBA degree from a leading business school in Pakistan and has more than 13 years of experience in corporate communications and journalism. She has worked in both agency and client-side roles, designing communication strategies for multinational clients, nonprofits and small businesses in various industries, such as education and healthcare.