Don’t worry if your baby or young child is shy!
It’s perfectly normal but at times, they may need a little help to overcome problems it might cause them.
What is shyness?
The first thing to recognise is that it’s sometimes difficult in babies and even toddlers, to differentiate between ‘shyness’ and natural self-preservation instincts.
Our animal heritage means it’s normal for all of us to be initially cautious with strangers and unfamiliar surroundings. That tendency is even more pronounced in babies and younger children because they’re at their most vulnerable ages.
So, your baby turning away from strangers or a toddler hiding behind you when a stranger enters the room is nothing to be concerned about. Most children will overcome that once they’ve had a chance to acclimatise to the situation and person concerned.
Shyness though is different and often manifest in situations such as:
- your child is seemingly not becoming used to people or places they have been to or seen before and they continue to refuse to engage with them – often clinging to you instead;
- they are refusing to look at someone or speak to them, even when the person has been present for some time and is in your company;
- they are reluctant to join in games with other children or won’t answer questions or speak in day-care centres or other pre-school activities.
In those cases, and others like them, their shyness might prove to be a minor problem that you’ll need to deal with.
Unfortunately, some people have a natural tendency to rush up to a baby or toddler and try to start talking and otherwise being familiar with them – like trying to pick them up.
Most younger children find this very intimidating unless the adult is someone they already know. If you see such, make clear to the person that your child will need some time to get used to them.
If you see your child is reluctant to join in with other kids playing away, don’t try and force them. Instead, talk admiringly about the game and stress how much fun it looks. Many shy children will find that comforting and then join in.
Never tease your child for their shyness. That simply humiliates them and makes them even less confident in future. However, equally, don’t rush to soothe and reassure your child every time they demonstrate shyness – that might tell them that it’s a way of getting extra attention from you. Some balance is required – and it’s not always easy!
Young children don’t like unfamiliar places and particularly once they see you plan to leave them there for a while.
So, whether it’s a day-care centre or a relative, try to make a visit or two beforehand where you don’t leave your child. This will build their familiarity and reduce shyness.
Is professional help necessary?
Most children overcome excessive shyness quite naturally as they age though in some cases, the problem might not improve and could even deteriorate.
Contact your doctor for an initial chat if:
- the experts at your day-care or pre-school centre suggest that your child’s shyness is inhibiting their progress;
- your child’s shyness isn’t improving even with people they see and engage with regularly (aunts, neighbours, other children etc);
- your baby seems shy even with you and your partner, such as not making eye contact with you or not seemingly liking to play games with you etc.