You and your toddler are invited over for a playdate, and you notice your tot is reluctant to play with others. They may even be reluctant to play with new toys! What should you do? Does this mean you have a shy kid on your hands? A shy toddler, or a slow to warm up child, is typically one who observes their surroundings on the sidelines. You might have even noticed that, as a baby, your little one didn’t like to be held by anyone unfamiliar. Children with slow to warm up temperaments are more cautious around new people and experiences. They don’t dive headfirst into the world around them, but rather dip their toes (albeit slowly), which might make them struggle with adapting to new activities. Your first instinct may be to worry — because, you know, that’s what mamas do — but there are more productive things you can do for your bashful babe.
If you have a shy baby or toddler, helping them learn coping skills that suit their temperament is key. Here’s what you need to know.
Shy Toddler Tips and Reminders
1. There’s nothing wrong with your shy baby or toddler
We live in a world that celebrates extroverts and those who embody what it means to be “the life of the party” rather than their introverted wallflower counterparts. However, it’s important to know that there’s nothing wrong with your slow-to-warm-up child. There is no “better” or “worse” temperament, and how we approach the world is often not something we choose but is just a part of who we are.
There are so many gifts to being a slow-to-warm-up child — for example, thinking before speaking and observing a situation before charging in. While your shy child might operate differently than you or your family, they should be supported and appreciated for who they are.
2. You’ll need to give your child time
Feeling comfortable with new surroundings and people is key for a slow-to-warm-up child. They tend to just feel comfortable with their immediate caregivers. As they grow up, you may notice they only have one or two close friends. They are also creatures of habit and like to play the same activities and with the same toys over and over.
When it comes to introducing your shy toddler to new experiences, like a daycare or school, it’s important to give them lots of time to prepare. This might mean scheduling a visit for your child to tour the building and meet their new daycare worker or teacher. Pretend play, in which you prep for change by using toys to act out what to expect, is also a good technique to help your child cope with changes in their environment.
3. Your shy tot also needs extra consistency
Toddlers who are slow-to-warm-up value consistency, whether that’s wearing their favorite pair of shoes or sticking to their regular bath and bedtime routine. No wonder getting them to change to something new is usually met with a lot of resistance and crying. But never fear! It’s not impossible for your shy toddler to adapt to the new. It just means that it won’t be instant. You’ll need to allow your shy kid to process and become comfortable with it on their own time. Consistency is key, Mama.
4. Helicopter parenting won’t necessarily help
You might feel the urge to go full-on Mama Bear with your shy tot and protect them from new experiences and people that may stress them out. However, that will only impede their growth and adaptation process. The best thing you can do is continue reassuring them and encouraging them to try new things and meet new people. Even if your tot has a tantrum before going to Grandma’s or daycare, keep taking them — all the while positively restating in a gentle and loving way that they’ll be fine.
5. Shame and labeling shouldn’t be part of the process
Even being labeled “shy” can be a negative thing for your child, especially if it’s used in a derogatory fashion. For example, “Stop being so shy” or “I wish you wouldn’t be so quiet around others.” Labeling your child or comparing them to those who aren’t as shy can deeply affect their emotional growth. While a slow-to-warm-child might have its difficulties, it’s always important to let your child know that there isn’t anything wrong with them and that you love them no matter what.
Is Shyness Genetic?
A child’s shyness is sometimes part of their biology. In some people, it’s in their genes. Like height or foot size, genes contain personality traits like bashfulness. In fact, 20 percent of people are born with a genetic disposition to be shy. However, keep in mind not everyone born with this trait develops a shy personality when they grow up.
Best Activities for a Shy Child
Just because a kid’s on the shy side does not mean they shouldn’t partake in sports and other activities. Here are a few fun exercises they can do:
Swimming: Not only does swimming improve stamina and strength, but it’s a pretty solo sport. A child can wade through the water and enjoy themselves, but at the same time be exposed to other swimmers.
Hiking: Hiking is a great way for kids to relax, exercise, and immerse themselves in the beauty of nature. It’s also a fun group activity, but not super social either. Kids can still do their own thing and destress.