Overcoming Shyness

Question: Is there anything you would recommend which would help our daughter, age 6, and overcome her shyness? Our main concern is that she finds it difficult to talk and interact with other children (other than her best friend) and make eye contact with others outside of the family.

We are trying to help prepare her for social events by talking through what is likely to happen and rehearse what she might say and do. Her teacher has suggested joining a drama group to build confidence. Can you suggest anything else?

Signed, What else can I do?

Today’s answer is provided by Odelia Schlisser. Odelia Schlisser is a life coach with a Masters Degree in Sociology and a Masters Degree in Education, and is trained in Family Therapy. She currently lectures Psychology and Behavioral Science in Mercy College and has spent the past several years counseling children, teens, and their parents and teachers. She can be contacted for coaching at odeliaschlisser@theroadto.net

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Dear What Else

I think what you are doing is great. Some kids can be very shy especially around unfamiliar people. I think rehearsing and preparing for social situations is a key way to lower your daughter’s anxiety, and help her feel more comfortable.

There are a few other ideas I would like you to consider. There are children who have a very hard time talking at school or social situations outside of the home. Some of these children stop talking altogether outside of the house. This is known as Selective Mutism. Interestingly enough, these same children can be very talkative with close friends and family. I am not suggesting that this is the case- however some of the recommended interventions may be helpful to you.

Other children are invited to the home, so the child can talk to them and spend time with them in a comfortable way. After this is done a number of times, the children usually feel more comfortable interacting with the same kids at school or other settings.

It is also helpful to have a parent or close family member with them at various social settings. (In cases of Selective Mutism the parent will accompany the child to school and talk with them there. This is repeated, and generally over a period of time the child will speak with other children and peers.) The trusted adult figure serves as a safety net in these situations.

Having her join the drama group is another great idea, as long as she wants to. I would not push her if she feels this is outside of her comfort zone. Certainly if there is a talent that she has, it can used as an expressive creative outlet.

The last idea I would like to present you with is a social skills group. Your daughter is at the perfect age to join one. She can make friends and acquire the skills and confidence to be more social in school and elsewhere.

I hope this advice is helpful to you!


  1. My kids are 8 and 6, and have not had too much issue with shyness… but I do feel that some shyness is good. It bothers me when I see parents making their children go up to, say, the school mascot (in their costume) and give them a hug. Children need to know it’s okay to feel weird about giving a stranger/mascot a hug. Even with distant relatives… I don’t think it’s good to “force” them to give a hug or kiss when they are leaving. Face it, they may be family to us, but to them, they are basically strangers. I think by making them do something they feel uncomfortable doing (within reason), it may reinforce something in their head that is not good. And while, overcoming shyness to make friends with their peers or to be involved with other activities is GREAT, I think some parents take it to extremes, and need to remember that some shyness/caution is a good trait to have.

    • Amen to that sister. I totally agree with Amy. I have 2 children (6 yr old boy & 4 yr old daughter) that are great at making new friends but yet hide behind my legs with certain people. I believe (sometimes) kids spirits are more in tune with good & evil so it’s a good idea to take their (body language or) opinion about people serioulsy. I too believe shyness is a good trait to have, but there a fine line between shyness and just plain rude. It’s hard to tell them apart as a kid so as parents we need to teach our children the difference. Kudos to Amy (high five on your comment)

  2. How would I go about finding a social skills group? I’m concerned about my five-year-old?

    Thank you!

    • You may want to speak with your Pediatrician about a group, s/he may have some resources. My son has Aspergers, which is a disorder on the Autism spectrum and these individuals lack social skills. I found a social skills group on the local Autism website, and not every child in the group my son attends has Autism. Just a few suggestions. Hope it all works out.

    • You can speak with your school’s guidance counselor. She/he may set something up. My daughter is part of a social skills group during lunch once or twice a week where she helps other students work through their shyness. Meanwhile, she is pretty shy herself, but she is so kind that she was chosen to be part of this group. Just ask, it can’t hurt!

  3. I would also make sure that it’s not the “stranger danger” teaching they do at school. I tell my kids 99.9% of strangers are nice people that you just don’t know yet. Sometimes abuse comes from people you know so you want them to be able to protect themselves but teach them confidence building skills so that they can take care of themselves and still not miss an opportunity to get to know someone new.

  4. Kathy Murdoch says:

    In addition to a social skills group, I would suggest girl scouts (brownies) to build friendships and shared interests.

    • Letitia says:

      I raised two daughters, one of whom has always been reserved around strangers and the other of which is outgoing. They were able to make friends safely through Girl Scouts, 4H, and church activities. I was able to let them be involved with these groups knowing that they could be as involved as they wanted to be, with a leader to watch and help them. My 21 year old is still reserved, but much more capable of dealing with strangers than if she hadn’t been involved in these groups.

  5. The above response is a good one as long as we know there are no underlying reasons for a six year old being shy. Im no expert, im a single father of a fifteen year old. If he where overly shy at six years of age I would be more interisted in finding the reason why, then how to overcome it.

  6. Joan Duffy says:

    One thing I recommend to parents is that they try not to push their child to speak “Say Hello to Mrs. So and So” just puts everyone on the spot. I encourage parents to say something like “Susie likes to get to know people very well before she speaks to them.” Be sure to protect the child from friends and family who might say unpleasant things about shyness. In front of the child just say to others something like “Susie is shy…and she is just fine.” It is important for the child to feel secure in your love and acceptance and then he/she may begin ro reach out to others. It is surprising how often extended family at holidays can say things that leave a lasting impression with a shy child.

  7. We found a social group through the local park district, another through the YMCA, and one more through Easter Seals. All have made a significant positive impact on my 9 year old and his social anxiety.
    If your child has a diagnosis the school district should develop and individual education plan to help your kid improve in this area.

  8. My daughter has been really shy ever since she was a baby but she had recently shown herself to be assertive and more outgoing. One thing I think that really helped was role playing different scenarios. I played the other person(s) in these role plays before events. For instance, a greeting, small talk, a school presentation, etc. Getting involved in some activities which required her to be more outspoken also helped. For example, science fair, drama camp, and Battle of the Books.

  9. I would not worry in the least about your daughter beimg shy,after all,she is only six,and because she is NOT shy around her best friend shows that she is selective with whom she plays.This is a good thing. Please don’t push her into any “social clubs” at such a young age. If she is shy this sort of “club” idea will only make her feel more awkward.I KNOW .I was there too and I hated being forced into play groups in which only made me miserable. The kids in these groups were stuck-up and prissy.She will make her own friends and will be just fine. My baby sister was so shy,we at home called her a “SHRINKING VIOLET” She became more popular as a teenager and young adult than either me or our other sister who was a “pistol”I hope this puts you at ease.

  10. Michelle Garcia Winner has great resources for teaching children social skills. Although initially developed for children with Autism, I used her proigram to teach social skills to a wide varietyof children. I also teach anxiety strategies and have found that providing social stories and practicing social interactions is very helpful for kids. It’s important to move in baby steps and a a pace that the child remains secure. If you play detective with your child and inquire about what she is thinking and feeling in those situations that she seems withdrawn in, you may be amazed at what is going on inside. It helps you to get to the bottom of what may be the problem. Some children are naturally more outgoing than others and that is completely fine but if you see it limiting her life experience, you can gently intervene and help her to feel more comfortable.

  11. Forgot the website for Garcia Winner http://www.socialthinking.com

  12. I am a teacher and the choir leader in my school. We had an elective mute who would speak to no one in the school but she wanted to join the choir. I had no problem with that although other teachers thought it was a joke because she didn’t sing. So what?! She wanted to be a part of it so I let her. She joined the choir in Gr. 4 and by Gr. 7 she began singing. She also began talking. I don’t know if the choir experience had any impact on her speaking but she seemed to enjoy being a part of the group and accepted as much as the others. I like to think this had something to do with her talking but I just don’t know enough about the psychology behind elective mutes. All I know is that she was an unhappy little girl who didn’t talk and by Gr. 7 she was a lot happier and was singing and talking. Who knows what can open up these beautiful children.

  13. My son has Sensory Integration issues which make him feel defensive at times, and has had problems; not making eye contact, not wanting to be touched, not wanting to touch others especially in large crouds especially when there is noise, like after church. We have not pushed him and have learned that the more experience he has in a setting, the more comfortable he is in a particular environment, the more secure he feels he has become more able to deal with these factors. It sounds like she is able to be social in her comfort zone and it may just take her longer to feel secure. My son is 10 now and these issues are hardly noticible now but, at 6 we were aware that he was having a hard time. It sounds like you are sensitive to her needs and who she is as an individual. Good Luck.

  14. I am of the same opinion as those who encourage acceptance – Most importantly, your daughter must not be given the least impression that she has something that needs to be fixed! The very idea of ‘overcoming shyness’ is of concern to me – children, like adults, will come in every variety – do we really want it any other way?! I think it is important to recognize and applaud our children’s strengths and not look at them as deficient if they are not extraverts or if they prefer a quieter, more one on one, approach to social relationships – contentment comes in many forms – let your child be – it is excellent to ask if they would like to initiate playdates, but be flexible and accepting if the answer is only one or two friends at a time. I speak from experience…my 11 year old is quiet, loves to read and enjoys a few friends, mostly one at a time…but I have always asked if she would was interested, and with me organizing and present, if she wanted larger playgroups etc…after a point though, I found it was very important to give her complete choice, respecting the outcome, and I don’t promise to organize everything – she needed me for a time but I began to notice that, rather than help her, I was preventing her from developing the skills to call, invite, or accept invitations – there is an important balance to find for yourselves. She is learning that friendships need to be cultivated and that is a very sophisticated skill – some adults I know are still working on those skills. I also have the opposite situation as my second child is almost the opposite – and that works too – kids are what they are and good parenting provides the unconditional acceptance and encouragement for them to reach their very individual potential!

  15. I have a grown son that was awfully shy and still is. I have searched for answers while he was growing up and always felt if I went on to finish my doctorate degree I would research this subject. I was awfully shy too growing up. So I am wondering and feel confident that someday we will find that it is genetic. I found myself taking a careet that forced me to become assertive and that helped so very much. But in my personal social life I am still quite a hermit but realize it and continue to work on it and have and will my whole life. My son is doing the same thing. I do wonder if it is because my parents very strict and I was too. I have a younger son that is not at all shy and grew up in the same house and is 11 months younger. So I do believe genetics is in there. But I really do think that realizing that each child is different and some kids don’t need much discipline growing up, it is just there and over doing it can confuse them. I had to push him and hold back the other, so go figure. He was/is very athletically talented that helped so much but was/is very sensitive and takes things so personal but at least now knows that. He has gone into some counseling that I think has helped him as an adult. It is something we all have to work out as we go along. I can tell you that it never goes away, we just work on it day by day. We all have something that we have to work on as none of us are perfect and what a boring life if we were. To strive to improve is wonderful. But I know I probably missed out on some opportunities because of my shyness and I know my son did too, but some of that stuff you just can’t help. It crushes us parents I know, I have been there. But they find their own way and life and it may not be what we thought they could have had, but it is their life. I did the best I could w/the skill I had and I am a master’s level social work/psychology level and I have learned so very much in how he has handled it as an adult. So I say hats off to him and us that have worked on it our whole lives.

  16. I would recommend the book “Don’t Call Me Shy”by Laurie Adelman. The author is a shyness coach who dealt with her own shyness as a child and now shares strategies with parents and teachers in overcoming shyness in children and adults.

    Visit her site at http://www.don‘tcallmeshy.com

  17. My 3 year old daughter started half day preschool yesterday (half day, twice a week). Of course, I believe she did a great job with saying “bye bye, Mommy” and no fussing at drop off. When I came in to volunteer the last hour, I observed her in her seat biting her nails-nervous. Before I arrived, I am told she didn’t participate in the hokey-pokey. (first day, HELLO!!) Going to gym was a stressor and I’m thankful I arrived just before going to gym. She was crying about lining up and I don’t know if the aide touched her but she kicked the aide. I didn’t see any of this as I was still in the hallway. When the door was opened, I saw her crying and we walked to gym. In the gym, she did 6 of the 9 tasks. She wouldn’t run across with everyone (fear of being trampled??) and wouldn’t hold the parachute. She was crying/screaming (uncommon for her, esp. screaming). I held her and she calmed dowm. She went on to the free play and was running in circles. I pointed
    out to the gym teacher she ran as directed but at her own pace. Now the problem: Before distribution of the reward (lollipop),the teacher and the aide had a whispering conference and when it came to my daughter, the teacher presented it with this remark “I am giving this to you because your mother is here but you have to participate to get one next time”.
    Should shy children be penilized like that?
    Is shyness to be handled like defiance and obstinancy?
    I emailed the teacher saying I do not believe she should be punished because of her fears but I also understand the “if you don’t listen, no rewards”.
    Thank you for your input!!!
    Laura Logan