How Parents Can Help a Shy Child Socialize

Shy child hiding behind her mother

Graham Monro / gm photographics / Getty Images

Does your child like preschool and learning, but they're still very quiet and seem to have a hard time making friends? How can you encourage them to come out of their shell a little? These are questions parents of shy preschoolers ask themselves all the time.

Some Kids Are Naturally More Prone to Socialize

Some kids make it look so easy. Gregarious and affable, they can work a room with the best of them, laughing, ​playing, and giving high-fives to every kid they meet. Within minutes, it seems, everyone knows their name and wants to be their friend. They're born extroverts.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's the shy child. A shy child can often be found hanging onto mom or dad, or in the absence of a trusted loved one, sitting by themselves, head down, not talking to anyone. They won't engage, hardly ever make eye contact and if they dare say anything at all, it's usually very difficult to understand them.

"She isn't like this at home," the parent will say to the teacher, pediatrician, or other person their child won't acknowledge. "At home, we can't get her to stop talking." And that's likely true. A shy child isn't intentionally being unfriendly. But in the presence of someone new, or in a situation that makes them uneasy, it's easier to disengage.

How Parents Can Help a Child Who Doesn't Naturally Socialize

The good news is, shyness is actually very common in the preschool years and is often a behavior that your little one will outgrow as they become more comfortable in their own skin. There are things you can do, however, to build self-esteem and encourage them to let that bubbly personality that you know and love shine through. Here's how.

Role Play

Put that wonderful preschool imagination to good use by acting out common scenarios that your little one may encounter on a regular basis. You can use dolls or puppets or just be yourselves.

Have your child imagine that they (or their doll) is walking into a classroom. What do they do? What do they say? Then switch. You play the role of the shy child and let your little one be the grownup who helps.

Pay attention to the method they use to comfort. It could give you some clues to your child's behavior.

Share Your Own Shyness

Chances are you've had a time in your life where you were feeling a bit bashful yourself. Tell your child about it.

Whether you talk about your first-day-of-work jitters or feeling nervous about the first time you played on your softball team, your empathy will show your child that they aren't alone in their shyness.

Ask Why

There could be a reason why your child acts one way at home and another in front of others. And while they might have trouble expressing it, with some exploratory questions, you may be able to get to the root of the problem.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

You are usually going to know ahead of time if your child is facing a situation where they may feel uncomfortable. Maybe you are going to a large family birthday party or a meeting of your playgroup. That morning, talk to your child about where you are going, who is going to be there and what is going to happen. Having a game plan in place may help your little one to feel more comfortable.

Help Your Child Make Friends

Making friends doesn't come naturally to everyone, and for preschoolers, for whom this is a completely new activity, it can be a challenge. So, intervene a little bit.

Start off slowly, introducing your child to someone their age. Perhaps it is someone they know from school or even from the neighborhood. If they seem comfortable together and your child is warming up well, invite the other child over for a playdate.

As your child grows comfortable in the presence of other kids, it's likely they will carry that over into other places.

Don't Call Them Shy

While it's OK if your child acts shy (if the behavior gets worse or if you notice your child doesn't make eye contact or socialize at all, contact your pediatrician), you don't want to label it as such. Because the more you talk about it and give it a name, your child may perceive that there is something wrong with them. And, of course, there isn't. Being shy isn't bad, it's just part of your child's personality.

The preschool years are ones where your child is experiencing growth of all kinds on many different levels—physical, emotional, behavioral and social. As with many developmental issues at this age, time, love and patience work wonders.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Help your child overcome shyness.

  2. KidsHealth from Nemours. How can I help my child overcome shyness?.

  3. Macgowan TL, Schmidt LA. Shyness, aggression, and empathy in children of shy mothers: Moderating influence of children's psychophysiological self-regulation. Dev Psychobiol. 2020;62(3):324-338.  doi:10.1002/dev.21918

  4. KidsHealth from Nemours. Helping kids handle worry.

  5. US National Library of Medicine. Preschooler development.

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.