Help develop social confidence in shy children by gently encouraging peer interaction

As a caregiver, you probably want to see all the children in your center thrive academically, socially, and become well-rounded people. In fact, it’s part of your job; providing quality care involves guiding young children to reach their full potential. Consequently, it can be disheartening to notice a shy child who is falling behind their peers or feeling excluded.

Timid children can be reserved about participating in class discussions or group play. Help the quiet children in your care find their voice by encouraging their social and emotional development.

Understanding shyness

For many children, reserved behavior comes from a place of fear. Sometimes this is a natural trait of their personality, but shyness can also be intensified by change. Joining a child care program or meeting new children is a big change in a little life.

Ask the child’s parents if signs of being shy or preferring solitude are typical. If a child is generally anxious, proceed slowly and respect their need to warm up gradually. For an introvert, encourage interactions that make socializing rewarding. Regardless, give reserved children time to adjust and avoid labeling them as shy.

Help children engage with their peers by trying the following:

  • Start small: Forcing social interactions may actually make a child’s anxiety worse. Be patient and set subtle but progressive goals. For instance, a good starting point is to get the child to talk with you. Will they answer a question that you ask?

Once they can do so consistently and with comfort, help them interact with another child by giving them the words or instructions to do so, such as, “Can you tell Isabella what your favorite animal is?” or even asking them to play quietly alongside someone else.

  • Pair up: Help form a partnership by pairing children up to hold hands as you leave the classroom to go outside, or assign two children to a quiet task such as playing with blocks or sorting small objects into similar groups.

Games that involve copying each other are another good way to encourage interaction without pressure. Put on music and instruct children to copy each other’s movements or play a simplified version of Simon Says.

  • Praise and reward: Demonstrate the positive impact of friendly behavior with public recognition and a reward. When a child sees another being praised, they’re more likely to copy that behavior. If a child helps another by showing them where something is or goes out of their way to share or include a peer in an activity, thank them for being so kind and explain that it’s helpful to you.

Watch quiet children and reward them with a compliment or sticker for behaving outside of their comfort zone.

  • Read books: Children learn well through storytelling. Find books whose characters overcome shyness or make friends and read them out loud to the children in your care. Ask how they think the character feels throughout the story, and point out how their actions led to a happy ending.

Early childhood is a formative period for the development of a child’s personality, self-image, and behavior. Help encourage the children in your care find confidence with gentle reinforcement that will lead to small social successes that can help shape their future achievements.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.