Helping your shy toddler make friends

Making new friends is hard for everyone, and Baby probably hasn’t had much practice yet, either. If she&;s having trouble making friends, your first instinct might be to send her on playdates. That’s not a bad idea, but some types of playdates can be easier for a shy toddler to navigate than others. The way you support Baby, the environment you put her in, and the way you listen to her cues all play an important part in helping her make friends.

Provide support and guidance

You can’t really help Baby make friends without putting her into a situation with other children. However, there are some things you can do first, behind the scenes. Trying to shock Baby out of feeling shy by joking with her or teasing her about her shyness can backfire, for one thing. Instead, talking to her about how she feels when she meets new people and how she might be able to feel more comfortable can help the two of you start to come up with ways to help her in social situations.

You can offer suggestions (Would you like to have someone from preschool over to play games?), but try not to get too involved yourself when there are other children around. Baby needs to learn how to handle social situations without you so she feels comfortable when you’re not there. To make this easier, consider the environment in which Baby is interacting with other children.

Choose a good environment

Set Baby up for success by putting her in environments designed for socialization. Signing her up for classes, sports, or activities that stress teamwork or playing with other children are a great way to introduce her to other children her own age.

If she gets spooked by settings where the other toddlers run a little wild, you can also choose activities in which there isn’t as much participation, or where participation is very structured. For example, taking Baby to a storytelling session at the library will put her in a situation with other kids, but all she needs to do is listen. This can be a great way to get her used to spending time with other children, as a way of warming up for more active settings, or play dates.

You can also put Baby more at ease by setting up an activity on her home turf. One way to do this is to host a game at your home where each child has their own turn, like a board game or card game. Once Baby has one friend she feels comfortable with, bringing that friend along to other social situations may make her feel more comfortable and social.

Listen to your child

Simply asking, “Why don’t you want to join the other kids?” or “How are you feeling right now?” could help you identify whether Baby is just intimidated by a new situation, uninterested, nervous, or scared. Maybe she just needs a few minutes to observe before joining in, or maybe she prefers to play inside than outside.

If you find that Baby is feeling intimidated by new people, you can suggest starting with small pieces of socialization, like smiling and waving to see who smiles or waves back. You can also model behavior like this to show that the people around you are friendly. You don’t need to force Baby into a situation she isn&;t ready for, but you also don’t need to stop trying new things. Most children outgrow their shyness at 3 or 4 years old and will be able to make friends with their classmates in preschool or kindergarten.  

  • Frank, Christina. “How To Help A Shy Child.” North Seattle University. Webshare. 2017. Web.
  • Ferrer, Millie; Fugate, Anne. “Helping Your Child with Social Problems.” University of Florida. EDIS. 2015. Web.
  • Bellini, Scott. “Making (and Keeping) Friends: A Model for Social Skills Instruction.” Indiana University Bloomington. Indiana University. 2009. Web.
  • Meyers, Rachel. “Build social skills in shy toddlers.” Michigan State University Extension. Michigan State University. June 6, 2012. Web.
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