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Shyness in 2-year-olds
Does your 2-year-old tuck her head into your shoulder when a relative gets too close, or does she hold back from joining group activities? She's in good company: Shyness is extremely common among 2-year-olds, and nearly all children this age experience occasional bouts of bashfulness.
Some interact easily with other children but fall to pieces in the company of adult strangers. Others feel comfortable among adults but crumble around peers. And then there are those who feel anxious in any new situation. Most 2-year-olds will outgrow their shyness.
Why is my child shy?
Researchers believe that both genes and environment contribute to a child's shyness. Some shy children are born with an increased sensitivity to new sounds, sights, and unfamiliar social situations. Being in a stressful or chaotic environment can also play part.
That doesn't mean your child is always going to be shy, or that his shyness is your fault. Shyness is not an illness that requires treatment. There are ways you can help your shy child be more comfortable in social situations, but overall, you'll both fare better if you try not to worry about it too much.
If you're concerned your child's shyness is affecting his daily life, talk to his healthcare provider.
How can I encourage my shy child?
- Get in the game. If your 2-year-old recoils in the presence of strangers, don't bring her to the park with the expectation that she'll skip off to the slides while you relax on the sidelines. Instead, join her until she feels at ease. If she's happily involved in an activity, try taking a few steps backward.
- Be sympathetic. Let your child know that you understand how she feels. You might say, "It's hard when all the kids are so noisy, isn't it?"
- Offer encouragement. Any time your child reaches out to make a friend or join an activity, praise her efforts, no matter how tentative. Keep in mind that many 2-year-olds still feel most comfortable with parallel play, observation, and imitation rather than playing directly with friends.
- Join social situations. Seek out activities that involve smaller groups and quiet or familiar environments. If the playground is one of your child's favorite places to visit, head there when it's likely to be less crowded.
What's wrong with labeling my child as shy?
There's nothing wrong with being shy, but it's rarely helpful to label a child, whether it's one that places pressure on him ("gifted," for instance) or one that explains his behavior ("Oh, he's just shy."). He might not think of himself as shy, but if he hears it often enough, he'll come to believe it.
To your child, being shy might not seem like a big deal – to him, it's only natural. But if you talk about it as if it is, you'll send a message that suggests there's something wrong with him. Consider saying, "It takes him a little while to get comfortable in social situations," instead of describing him as shy.