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 their teacher has mentioned that your little one doesn’t engage with the other kids at school, you may wonder if they are 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 their language, but they may get quiet in social settings. It could be shyness, or it could be something more. Maybe they are behind in expressive language and doesn’t feel confident in their ability to keep up when speaking with their peers. They could also struggle with receptive language, which means they doesn’t easily understand what is being said to them. 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 they are experiencing social anxiety, as opposed to just a bit of shyness.
  • Acting out: When faced with a situation they 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 their peers in social situations. This is not necessarily a sign of an underlying behavioral problem, but may instead be their way of trying to avoid social situations that make them 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 their socializing with family at home. So you can start to gather information from outside sources, like their teacher or childcare provider, about how they interact with their peers when you’re not around. If it seems like the issue might go beyond general shyness, you can start by checking in with their 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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