How to prepare a shy child for school
Shy children can face some extra challenges at school, but here are some ways that may help them flourish.
For shy children, the idea of school can be particularly daunting.
If your child is a bit shy and they are gearing up for going back to school, here are four tips that might help.
1. Start socialising early
Action: Organise regular play dates for your pre-school child, either at home or at a friend’s house; consciously move away from the action once your child has warmed up.
2. Prepare them in advance
Parents can help by ‘rehearsing’ different scenarios with their child, such as the classroom show-and-tell. “It’s really beneficial to rehearse these kinds of situations with your child so when it’s their turn, they’re a little bit more prepared,” says Green.
Both she and Malouff strongly encourage parents to talk to teachers about their child’s shyness. “Some teachers mistake shyness for autism, deafness, or defiant behaviour,” says Malouff. “Talk with them and come up with a plan to help your child build social confidence and skills.”
Action: Ask your child’s teacher when show-and-tell is likely to happen, and in the lead-up, get your child to practise their presentation a couple of times.
3. Spread their wings
It’s a good idea to prepare your child for the activity by “Tell[ing] them what it is, what the venue is, how long you’re going to be there, and when you’ll be going home,” says Green. “These small manageable steps help them adjust to new situations.”
Action: Enrol your child in an after-school activity, get them to join a sports team, or sign them up for a class where there’ll be plenty of other kids. Give them the opportunity to ask lots of questions about the activity so they have an idea of how it might play out.
4. Praise and reward them
“Praise the child for interacting with others,” he advises. “Try to help your child make progress in measurable ways such as speaking first to another child or responding when grandma says hello… and make sure you celebrate these triumphs.” He suggests a simple reward program such as Bold With Gold – a gold star (or a treat like stickers) every time they exhibit outgoing behaviour.
Action: Set a goal for your child – like talking to a new person every day, then reward as you see appropriate.
Strategies such as these, along with huge doses of love, encouragement and empathy, can have a positive impact on a shy child. But when is shyness simply shyness and not something more? “If a child’s shyness is significant – social situations are causing real distress, for example – and it’s not changing over time, then it might help to talk to a professional,” advises Green.