Coping With Shyness

Dear Dr. Bill,


My son will be 4 at the end of December.  For as long as I can remember, he has been afraid of walking into a room of people.  He used to cry when we took him to the church nursery, but now he’s doing better at it as long as he can control the steps we go through before he “allows” me to leave.  He also has problems at his daycare center —if we get there too late and any group projects have started, he stands out in the hallway and won’t go in.  My son doesn’t mind playing with kids once he feels comfortable but it’s getting up to that point that I’m concerned about.  What do you suggest?




Dear Lauren,


Shyness can be a social handicap for kids and it can be frustrating for parents to deal with.  It’s important to understand that some kids are born with a genetic predisposition to be less outgoing than others.


Shy children can tend to be more anxious and less willing to tackle things that may be new or less familiar.  Unfortunately, parents can sometimes compound the problem by reinforcing the avoidant behavior either by giving into it, or by criticizing the child’s shyness and harming their self-esteem.


It’s possible that you’ve been reinforcing your son’s fear of groups and new situations by giving in to his demands.  You mentioned that you have to go through several “steps” before he will “allow” you to leave.


You’ll need to start placing limits on this behavior, even though your son may cry, protest, or even tantrum.  Your goal should be to simply take him into the nursery or daycare center, say goodbye, and leave.


Enlist the help of the nursery worker or daycare supervisor to make the transition easier.  Your son isn’t going to like this new plan, and chances are he will raise a huge fuss.  But don’t give in to your his protests.  If you do, you’ll be rewarding him for his acting out, and he’ll only amp up the volume next time.


Thanks for writing Lauren.


I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

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