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Helping a Shy Child Make Friends

Dear Debi,
I have a very shy 4-year-old boy who doesnít like to play with other children. Should I encourage him to play or should I wait until he is ready?
Jackie, Compton, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Get to know the child, find out what their likes and interests are.
  • Gain their trust and make them feel more comfortable, especially when trying new things or entering new situations.
  • Help children form friendships by providing activities they can do together or by reading books with themes of friendship.
Expert Advice
Colleen Triesch
Colleen Triesch
Parent Education Coordinator
Shy means a little withdrawn and not interested in having social interactions. Our society has labeled it a bad thing, but I think itís a way for children to cope with their surroundings. It can be negative if the child never grows out of it.

What happens with a shy child is that thereís a lot of anxiety in him. As child care providers, we need to find a way to ease the child into a new social setting. Children are social critters; when they are ready, they will interact, but it may not be necessarily within the same time frame of other children. So when we see a child thatís apparently not interested in making friends we see a problem.

One way to get a shy child to make friends is to talk with them and prepare them at the beginning of that day for the possibility that he or she will meet a new friend. The more we talk to them and get them used to the idea, the more the child can prepare himself. Little by little and with a lot of patience on the part of the adult, the child will develop friendships.
Child Care provider Comments
Family child care provider for 4 years
In my child care, we call each other friends. I address them as friends and treat them as such. This generates a positive attitude in the group and towards each other. We also try to partner the most outgoing child with the shyest one.

I once had a child who wouldnít say much at first and I wondered if she talked. Once I partnered her with one of the more outgoing children they began to read together, have lunch together, play together and then she started venturing out to the rest of the group.
Family child care provider for 14 years
I choose not to use the word shy, I prefer to say reticent. Certain children need to observe before they feel comfortable with how they will engage with their environment as well as their peers. Some children can jump right in and others canít.

I always speak to the children in my care before a new child comes in. The benefit of home child care is that it is a smaller group, more intimate environment and it lends itself to friendships. So when a new child joins the child care, I say to my kids, ďWill you please welcome Johnny to Smart Start.Ē
Family child care provider for 4 years
The best tool for children who are shy is to not make them feel pressure and to never push them into doing anything they donít want to. Bring a toy instead so they can engage with other children, before you know it, they will have a new buddy.

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