Everyone loves an extrovert, folks whose bubbly, talkative, outgoing personalities make them the bright center of any social gathering. But not everyone is born with the same temperament. Natural introverts, those who are reserved, comfortable with solitude, and not always at ease in public gatherings, often get a bad rap. As children, they’re frequently labeled as “shy.”
But there’s nothing wrong with being shy. Nor is it unusual to feel awkward in a new or chaotic social situation. With a little help, even the most reserved child can learn to successfully navigate a world full of extroverts.
Navigating everyday social situations does not come instinctively; it’s a collection of learned behaviors. If your reserved child isn’t picking up on the social cues, perhaps those cues need to be explained and demonstrated.
Consider practicing these scenarios with your child in the comfort of your home.
Play-act introducing your child to a new stuffed animal, focusing on appropriate responses and the importance of eye contact.
Using his toys, arrange a “meeting” between two characters who are “strangers” to one another, offering up icebreaker conversation starters.
Be a good listener to determine whether your child has any particular social concerns, like how to ask for something from an adult. (“Excuse me, Mrs. Smith, may I be excused?”, or “Excuse me, Mr. Jones, may I borrow a pencil?”) Knowing the language cues gives them one less thing to worry about.
Shift The Spotlight
“Say hello to Uncle Charlie” may seem like a simple request, but to a shy child clinging to a fistful of your pant leg, Uncle Charlie’s size and unfamiliarity can be daunting. If your child is put on the spot without warning, his anxiety level may surge and so will the instinct to withdraw.
Consider talking with the adult for a while before drawing attention to your shy child. If he or she sees how comfortable you are with someone who is a stranger to him, his anxiety may ease. He may also pick up parts of the conversation that will remind him of an earlier encounter. If your child and Uncle Charlie have a mutual interest, injecting that into the conversation may be a better icebreaker than asking a young, natural introvert to perform an awkward social ritual.
Shrink The Circle
Most natural introverts are active, engaging, and talkative once in the presence of people with whom they are comfortable, such as the immediate family and long-time friends.
Offering up lots of opportunities for your child to have one-on-one playdates is one way to ease him into confidence in social interactions overall. Larger gatherings are inevitable, but if a child has developed a few friendships among the crowd, he’ll have an oasis of comfort which he can expand, at his own rate.