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How to Help a Shy Child

Question:  A five year old girl just started in my kindergarten classroom and is extremely shy.  Her parents tell me that she won’t talk to any adults (family, neighbors, friends, etc.)  Her mom has also noticed that she seems to be acting less confident than she used to be.  Her development in all other areas is age appropriate.  She is having trouble opening up at school, is very quiet when she speaks (whispers) and keeps to herself.  She does not have many interactions with the other children.  She has no siblings.

Myrna Shure:  The fact that she is developing at age appropriate levels in all other areas is very important, and probably indicates that this child can be helped to relate to others without additional professional help.  I have found the following to be helpful with shy children.

• Play a game I call “Let’s Do the SAME Thing, Let’s Do Something DIFFERENT.”  With a small group of children, go through a series of motions with your body.  For example, tap your head and then say, “Let’s all do the SAME thing.”  Because this child doesn’t have to talk, or relate to anyone, she is likely to follow the game and tap her head.  Say, “Very good, we all did the SAME thing.”  Now stamp your foot, and say, “Let’s all do something DIFFERENT.”  Children love making up motions with their hands and their feet.

You may wonder how this will help this child out of her shyness.  It gets her participating with the group in a game without having to say anything to anyone, and it gets her out of a passive state.  When you think she is really enjoying the game, you might consider shaking her hand, and say, “Good, you did the SAME thing!” or, “Good, you did something DIFFERENT!” Positive reinforcement will help with her confidence.

• Encourage the child to draw how she feels at different times of the day.  Children this age are able to draw happy, sad, and angry faces.  This is a good way to let her express her feelings without having to express them verbally.

• Let the child hold a hand puppet.  “Poppy the Pup” may express thoughts, even if the child does not.  After getting used to responding through the puppet, the child may begin responding, however slowly, as herself.

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