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We grandparents want our grandkids to thrive. And it can hurt when we see a quieter child overlooked, not chosen or otherwise left out in fun, social settings. While we know each child is a unique individual with character traits and tendencies just his or hers, we still want the best for them and that usually means competence in social settings. How can we help bolster their confidence?

Possible Contributing Factors 

Being a quiet person is not necessarily a bad thing. Quieter people can be perfectly happy and have wonderful social skills. But at times children need a boost to make friends and to feel comfortable in social settings. Reasons for the more negative characteristics of being shy or overly quiet can be:

  • Genetics: Some children inherit personality traits and dispositions leaning toward introversion.
  • Innate Personality: We each have a unique make-up with certain tendencies. 
  • Shyness can be a learned behavior. If those around the child model quiet or withdrawn social behaviors, the child may observe and imitate them.
  • Insecure Family Relationships: If a child has overbearing or overprotective adults in his or her life, the child can become fearful and worry about proper behaviors.
  • Lack of Experience: A child who is isolated and has limited opportunity to play with others has fewer opportunities to learn acceptable social behaviors.
  • Overly Critical parenting can create a child who fears failure.

The Characteristics of a “Shy” Child

Friends and family may label a child “shy” when they notice certain behaviors. Your grandchild may tend to play quietly rather than roar like a dinosaur. He may seem uncomfortable around other children, especially those not yet known. She may seem nervous and unwilling to try something new. He may worry that others won’t like him and may just watch as an outsider when games are played.

The shy child may be seen by others as stand-offish. Other children may believe that he or she just doesn’t want to play. And when a child is hesitant to join in the fun, that alone can begin a cycle in which a child has fewer interactions with others—fewer opportunities to practice using social skills which in turn brings on more discomfort in play situations.

What to do?

Adults Can Help a Quiet, Withdrawn Child by:

  • Avoiding labels. Refrain from calling your grandchild’s behavior “shy.” Rather point out that he or she is thoughtful—a person who makes choices carefully.
  • Avoiding being overprotective. When your grandkids visit, offer many opportunities for them to participate with others, but refrain from making it a huge potential problem. See your grandchild as unique and as a learner who will be able to succeed at his or her own pace.
  • Teaching and modeling positive social interactions. Use role play with puppets or stuffed animals to act out ways to make friends and have positive interactions with adults. Practice making eye contact when speaking to others and rehearse scripts to use when meeting someone new. “Hi, my name is …”
  • Setting achievable goals. “Hey, you looked Grandma right in the eyes when you talked to her today. Great job.” Stickers and high fives when they approximate positive social interactions. “I saw how you shared your bubbles with Carlos. High five!”
  • Accepting and encouraging your grandchild as the unique individual he or she is. It’s fine to be quieter or different from other children.
  • Using books as teaching tools. Here are some choices:

Too Shy to Say Hi by Shannon Anderson and Hiroe Nakata

Buster the Very Shy Dog by Lisze Bechtold

Shy Ninja by Mary Nhin

Sometimes I’m Shy: A Child’s Guide to Overcoming Social Anxiety by Poppy O’Neill and Amanda Ashman-Wymbs

Shy Charles by Rosemary Wells

Too Shy for Show-and-Tell by Beth Bracken

Reading and discussing a book together is a wonderful way to teach perspective-taking, the skill of learning to see things from another’s point of view. They learn that other children worry sometimes too, and that there are ways to solve the problems.

It takes patience to encourage a timid child and we grandparents don’t always have regular times with our grandkids to bolster their confidence. But step by step you can support them as they become more confident and successful in social settings.