Just shyness, or a problem with socialization?

Around this age, most children move from playing alongside their peers – in what’s known as parallel play – to actually playing together.

If you’ve noticed Baby shying away from other children at the park, or if her teacher has mentioned that your little one doesn’t engage with the other kids at school, you may wonder if she is showing signs of shyness, or if it’s something more.

Here are some common scenarios that can cause concern.

  • Not engaging verbally: Baby may talk a lot at home, and you probably understand a lot of her language, but she may get quiet in social settings. It could be shyness, or it could be something more. Maybe she is behind in expressive language and doesn’t feel confident in her ability to keep up when speaking with her peers. She could also struggle with receptive language, which means she doesn’t easily understand what is being said to her. In either case, Baby may start to feel overwhelmed when it comes to socializing as a result of a language delay and so may find it easier to withdraw.
  • Showing physical discomfort: People who are shy may have trouble engaging socially or prefer to spend time alone. Those with socialization problems, however, may show more obvious outward signs. If Baby seems to blush, stutter, or even tremble when faced with having to socialize, it’s likely she is experiencing social anxiety, as opposed to just a bit of shyness.
  • Acting out: When faced with a situation she would rather avoid, many toddlers tend to act out, which can come in many forms. Baby may throw tantrums when asked to greet a classmate or even act aggressively toward her peers in social situations. This is not necessarily a sign of an underlying behavioral problem, but may instead be her way of trying to avoid social situations that make her feel uncomfortable.

What you can do to help

It’s hard to get to the root of a toddler’s behavior on your own, especially because at this point, your toddler is probably doing most of her socializing with family at home. So you can start to gather information from outside sources, like her teacher or childcare provider, about how she interacts with her peers when you’re not around. If it seems like the issue might go beyond general shyness, you can start by checking in with her pediatrician about what you’ve noticed, and, if you’re concerned, consulting with a specialist about the best approach to help your little one deal with social situations.

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