Your Shy Child and Preschool

Preschool is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn new skills and socialize with their peers. However, if your child is shy, you may be concerned about the experience they might have in preschool. Here are some things you should know about your shy child and preschool.

What is shyness?

Many parents are unsure whether a child is clingy or shy. While the two things can seem similar, the difference is that shyness is an individual temperament, whereas clinginess is a behavior that is sometimes present and sometimes not. John Malouff of the University of New England’s School of Behavioral, Cognitive and Social Sciences says that shy children “may remain silent around unfamiliar others, even when spoken to . . . may refuse to enter a new setting such as a classroom without being accompanied by a parent . . . [and] want to interact with unfamiliar others but don't because of their fear.”

Helping your shy child succeed in preschool

While preschoolers are only just beginning to practice their socialization skills, there are ways you can help your shy child have an easier time in the classroom.

  • Talk to your child’s teacher. Your child’s preschool teacher has seen children of all temperaments, and has seen all kinds of behavior. They can share the latest advice from early childhood education experts, and work with you to come up with strategies to make your child more comfortable and confident.
  • Give your child time to adjust. If your child has only been at preschool for a few days, that might not be enough time for them to feel comfortable in their new environment. Shy children often need a longer adjustment period than more social children.
  • Model outgoing behavior. It can help your shy child immeasurably to see how you navigate social situations such as greeting strangers. For example, when grocery shopping with your child, make sure to say, “Hi, how are you?” to the cashier.
  • Empathize with your child. While you may not understand why your child is anxious in social situations, it’s all too real for them. Your child will feel supported and loved by you when you empathize with their feelings, without judgement or pressure.
  • Don’t discuss your child’s shyness in front of them. According to Psychology Today, if your child hears you call them shy, it can make “shy” their self-view. If your child doesn’t want to talk to a stranger, you can say that they’ll join in the conversation later.
  • Set up small playdates. If there’s another child in preschool who your child likes to play with, or a child who might also be shy, you might consider setting up a playdate. Invite the other child’s parents as well, so there is less pressure on the children. Often, shy children find it easier to socialize with one or two others, when they don’t feel overwhelmed by a preschool classroom full of children at the same time.

If your child is not confident or comfortable around others, there are ways you can help them have an easier time at preschool. By supporting your child, modeling social behavior, helping them to feel comfortable, and talking with the preschool, your shy child will be able to see that social situations don’t have to be scary.