March 04, 2009

Shy Children

Shy Child Can Outgrow Problem

Sylvia Rimm Q. I have a 2-year-old daughter who has gotten progressively shyer. I'm a stay-at-home mom, and we participate in weekly gym classes and have many playdates. When we arrive somewhere my daughter will hang on to my hand or try to climb up my clothing and it takes quite a bit of coaxing to get her to participate. She's less shy with Daddy, but still much more so than other children. I let her scan the room to see who's there, give her time to get comfortable and encourage her to participate. I hold her hand until she lets go, and I lead her to activities.

We have a close friend who's very lenient with her daughter, and often her daughter wants to spend time with my daughter. My friend takes my daughter by the hand and leads her to her daughter. She's loving toward my daughter, and the girls get along wonderfully, but I think she's creating another dependency on her daughter and increasing my daughter's dependency. I'm trying to make sure she mixes with the other kids in class, as well as in public places such as parks. I'm friendly and outgoing myself to show her how easy it can be. It creates quite a bit of tension.

First, what can I do to help my daughter overcome this shyness? Second, how do I handle my friend who means well but whom I believe is making the situation worse? She suggested I drop my daughter off at her house for a playdate and leave her there alone. I also know that day care might help. Unfortunately, we can't afford it since I'm a stay-at-home mom. I don't want to go back to work just to put her in day care. Thank you for any help you can provide.

A. Children are born with different temperaments and some have biological tendencies to be more fearful. However, fully half of shy children reverse their shyness, and you should have reasonable confidence that your daughter can do that. There are a few techniques that are very effective.

First and foremost, take the word "shy" out of your vocabulary within your daughter's earshot. When others refer to her as shy, explain that she's actually quite friendly. Within your daughter's hearing, but indirectly to your husband, mother or friend, mention that you notice that she's starting to outgrow her shyness and seems to enjoy gym class.

As to your friend whose daughter is your daughter's age, I'm not sure what in the mother's behavior you're perceiving as a problem. Having her spend time at this girl's house, without you, sounds like excellent practice for independence. Doing the same with other friends will give her a variety of friendship experiences and help her overcome her shyness.

Unless parents are required to stay in gym class, I suggest walking your daughter in, giving her a hug and letting her know you'll pick her up later. After two or three times, I expect she'll have friends to play along side of, which is what 2-year-olds typically do.

As to day care, I don't think you need to feel guilty about not enrolling her. If you can manage two half days a week of preschool next year (at age 3), that would help her social adjustment. In addition to the gym classes, weekly library story hours, playdates and occasional babysitters will help your daughter become more independent and confident.

For free newsletters about developing social skills or raising preschoolers, send a large, self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094, or go to for more parenting information.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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