With a little coaching and practice, your soft-spoken kid can become more comfortable in social situations.
My 3-year-old daughter, Ada, and I were walking down the sidewalk chatting when I saw a neighbor sitting on his stoop up ahead. I could feel Ada tense in anticipation of what was coming next. “Hello, there!” he yelled as we approached. Ada—so chatty a moment before—scurried behind my legs and fell silent. As her quietness persisted, the man’s smile turned to a frown. I was torn between wanting to protect her need to disengage and assuring our neighbor that Ada wasn’t rude or afraid of him. More than that, I worried that encounters like these would shatter her confidence.
We often assume kids who are quiet or introverted -- as opposed to shy, a word some experts use to describe those who have true social anxiety -- are unsure of themselves. "Neurologically, they're just wired differently than louder children and react more positively to less stimulating environments," says Susan Cain, author of Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. But even in challenging settings, your quiet child can practice her social skills and learn to navigate our loud world more easily. These expert tips will help her break out.
Change Your Language
Quiet children may receive unwitting messages -- even from their parents -- that there's something wrong with their reserved behavior. "By saying, 'Sorry, he's shy,' to another adult who's trying unsuccessfully to engage him, you imply to yoru child that we see his quietness as a negative thing," says Erica Reischer, Ph.D. author of What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive. She suggests saying something like, “He’s feeling quiet right now.” This acknowledges how your child feels in the moment and that he may not always feel that way.