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Toddler Clinic


Overcoming shyness

Shyness is completely understandable in a small child. Every new experience takes a lot of processing, and every new person can bring a challenge with them. Most children overcome their shyness after a few minutes or so, but some find it harder to either be parted from you, to share you with another person, or to be friendly towards someone they don’t know or haven’t seen for some time.

Common toddler shyness

In most circumstances, a child who is shy when they first meet someone or see someone they haven’t met for some time (even granny and grandpa) will get over this reluctance to leave your arms after a few minutes.

  • Play their shyness down. It’s natural for us to say, ‘Oh, are you shy?’ as a way of seeming polite to the person our child is shunning, but this may plant the idea of a problem in your child’s head, so try to avoid saying this in front of him.
  • Let your child do his own thing. If your child wants to crawl all over you for the first ten minutes of a party, or a coffee with a friend, that’s fine. Occasionally point out someone or something he might want to go and play with in the room, but let him decide when it’s the right time to explore on his own.

Extreme shyness

Some children are unhappy to spend time with other people, especially if this means being apart from you.

  • As before, don’t make a big deal of their shyness in front of others. Instead, give your child a bit of a narrative about what you’re doing, why and who with, so he can begin to get his head round what to expect.
  • Think about what you are like around his anxiousness. It’s important to be a comfort and a support to your child, but do you indulge his shyness by giving up on trips out?
  • Try to build in some quality time with other trusted people from an early age so that you are not the only major character in your child’s life. But make sure that if you go out, you return when you say you will so that your child can build trust on reliable experiences.
  • Plan new experiences that might enable your child to be around other people without realising it – visits to the zoo where the focus is on animals and not necessarily on the child standing next to him, for example. Then start to observe other children, commenting to him on what they are doing, pointing out how much like him those children might be. 
  • Eventually your child will probably get used to being with other people but if this phase isn’t passing you will need to confront it before your child has to go to school. Join playgroups or clubs where there are activities that you know your child enjoys – these will help him relax and hopefully he will gradually want to engage with the rest of the world with short playdates on his own territory, at home.

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