For a young child, it can be a daunting experience the first time he enters preschool or childcare.
In the “strange”, new environment, having friends in school can provide comfort and moral support. In the long run, these friendships can also help in boosting your child’s self-esteem.
But what if your ‘shy’ or reluctant child has some difficulty making friends?
Consider these six tips to help your child overcome their shyness.
1. Engage in conversations at home
When speaking to your child, model the appropriate conversation etiquette – taking turns in speaking, and responding appropriately (ie not interrupting or making insensitive remarks)
That way, your child will have a clearer picture on how to act while engaging in conversations.
Conversations at home can also introduce the concept of active listening. This form of listening makes it clear that attention is paid to the speaker through body language. Factors include eye contact and body orientation towards direction of speaker.
2. Practise saying “hello”
Encourage your child to greet someone new each day, starting with “familiar strangers” like your neighbours, the postman, and store owners. By rehearsing social skills in a familiar environment, this builds your child’s confidence to speak up more regularly, especially when the responses are warm and encouraging.
3. Set up small playdates
Having playdates with other children who are around the same age group can be a good way to practice the social skills introduced at home.
Keep the playdates short at around 45 minutes to an hour. This allows the children more time to get to know each other, and get used to each other’s presence. The short session not only leaves the children looking forward to the next one, but it also prevents any squabbles from escalating into a fight.
Parents must be around to facilitate the session in the case of conflicts arising, or the need to change activities. Remember, the parents’ role is to break the ice but avoid taking control over the session!
4. Help them be socially aware
Young children below the age of three might not be able to recognise or understand emotion.
Guide your child to pick up non-verbal cues by observing the facial expressions and body language of people in their surroundings. Verbalise the emotions by pointing out the person’s body language, and explain the emotion he might be feeling.
By saying, “That man is frowning and keeps running his hand through his hair. He seems frustrated or troubled, don’t you think?”, allows the child to understand negative body language. This teaches your child to be more cautious in his actions and words when approaching people with similar body language or emotion.
This is a form of perspective taking, which requires you to imagine what your thoughts, feelings and actions would be if you were in another person’s situation.
After all, we know that part of being a good friend is to understand the feelings of others, and responding appropriately to them.
5. Educate them on cultural differences
In becoming a global citizen, it is crucial for your child to accept and get along with people of all races and religions. Start by exposing your child to the different cultures, races and religions of the world. This will help him realise that people are the same, despite the way we look or dress, which foods we eat or the festivals we celebrate.
A good introduction to the variety of world cultures can be introduced through reading children’s books, taking them on cultural food trials (for example, sampling the difference in Malay, Indian, Chinese and Eurasian cuisines, or tasting foods from different countries like Turkey, Japan or Thailand) and visiting museums.
These can be good starting platforms to pique your child’s interests and take the first step in understanding the cultural and religious differences around the world.
6. Seek necessary help when needed
Shyness and difficulty in making friends at a young age is common. However, red flags in your child’s behaviour might alert you to pay your paediatrician a visit:
– Difficulty or inability to hold eye contact
– Tantrums or crying whenever other children are around
– Fear of approaching or going to a playground, park or public space
Ultimately, give your child some time to adjust to the new environment. To gain a deeper understanding of your child’s interactions in school, speak to his teacher to work out possible ideas together to allow your child to come out of his shell.
About the Expert: Ms Nancy Lee-Wong, MEd
As an a RIE-Pikler inspired practitioner, Nancy emphasises on the importance of freedom of movement, especially for infants and young toddlers, in order to promote learning through exploration.
Nancy started her career more than 35 years ago in the Early Childhood Care and Education industry as an Assistant Teacher, before progressing on as a Centre Director, and subsequently, a freelance consultant and resource person to many childcare and pre-school centres, advising centre leaders on management, organisation and pedagogical matters.
She is an accredited SPARK/QA consultant with ECDA, WDA-ECDA accredited trainer/lecturer and practicum supervisor for Pre-school and Early Years Care & Education specialising in ECCE Pedagogical Leadership & Management, Pre-school Education and Early Years Educare.