A shy child is often sensitive and easily overwhelmed in social scenarios. She may get overwhelmed by direct eye contact or direct questions from others. Your child may be avoidant of greetings that involve hugging or contact. He may feel disorganized in a busy, stimulating environment. Your child may feel worried about what may be coming up and what may be expected of him. 

There are a number of strategies to increase your child’s comfort level in social situations:

  • Plan with your child in advance where you will be going so there are no surprises.
  • Allow your child to bring a comfort object with her to hold or put in her backpack.
  • Create “warm-up time” to sit and observe any new environment or situation before joining it. If your child knows he has this time to get ‘the lay of the land’, he will likely be more willing to join in.
  • Give your child a social task that does not involve talking, such as handing out items to others.
  • Make a hand signal for taking a break, which can be initiated by you or your child. She will be more likely to leave your side if she still has a way to communicate with you from afar.
  • Stay in the visual range of your child initially so that he feels your presence as an anchor, which will allow him the comfort to move away from you.
  • Don’t disappear unexpectedly- this only creates worry for future outings. It’s important that your child trusts you.
  • For social events in a busy environment, come early or later in the event when there are less people and less stimulation.
  • Have your child bring a backpack with familiar favorite activities so that if she feels overwhelmed, she knows she can go to a quiet area and play with her stuff. This teaches your child to self-calm.
  • Avoid bringing electronics however, as it is easy to get absorbed into them and does not promote joining the group.
  • After outings, talk together about what things went well, and what things were “tricky” then you get to hear and learn what was going in inside your child’s inner world.

Kiegan Blake is an Occupational Therapist, Behavioral Specialist and Director of Maui Center for Child Development. For more information, please call 808-873-7700 or mauichilddevelopment.com.