Boost Your Child's Self-Confidence

Children vary widely in their temperaments. Some adjust to new experiences easily, while others need more time to feel safe in an unfamiliar situation.

Many children are considered shy, or slow to warm to strangers and new surroundings. They may cling to a parent as they adjust to a new experience, take a while to join in with other children, and make frequent eye contact with a parent as they ease into a new situation.

Although shy youngsters need a longer period of adjustment to new experiences, these children do not differ from others once they are acquainted with their companions and surroundings. Shy children typically prefer individual relationships or small numbers of children over larger group situations. Shy school-aged children may be reluctant to raise their hand in class, give a presentation, or voice their opinions. Peers mistakenly may perceive a shy classmate as aloof, unfriendly, or disinterested.

The following strategies will boost your child's confidence.

Model confidence in a variety of social situations

Show by your example how to smile and greet people, introduce yourself, shake hands, give compliments, make requests, ask questions, and be courteous and helpful toward others. Have your child work on one social skill at a time.

Don't typecast your child by labeling her as shy

Instead say that she likes to take her time getting used to new things. She has so many other qualities, in addition to being timid in new situations. Stereotyping of children can limit their sense of possibility. Calling your child shy can sound like a criticism and make her feel she has disappointed you.

Recognize your child's special interests, attributes, and aptitudes

Spend quality time interacting with her each day and compliment her often. Provide opportunities for her to cultivate her unique musical, athletic, artistic, theatrical, or academic strengths.

Introduce your child to new experiences gradually, without overprotecting her

Prepare her by telling her what to expect, and go with her as she enters an unfamiliar situation. Help her feel comfortable talking about her fears. Remind her that she usually enjoys herself after she gets used to a new experience. Remain nearby, without hovering.

When introducing your child to a new situation, look for aspects that are familiar to her. At a new school, for example, you might point out: "There's a kitchen set like the one you have at home."

Role-play with your child asking other children to play

Have her practice smiling, making eye contact, and saying in a confident, firm voice: "Hi, my name is Michelle. Can I play dodge ball too?" Help her assert herself when another child tries to dominate her: "That's mine. I want you to give it back."

Allow your child opportunities to be part of a regular small playgroup

Play dates with a small number of children provide a non-threatening setting for a child with shy tendencies to practice her social skills.

Marianne Neifert, M.D., M.T.S., is a well-known pediatrician, professional speaker, author, and mother of five adult children and grandmother of five.

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