There is nothing wrong with a shy or cautious child by nature. Rather than try to change their personality you can help them move beyond their comfort zone to discover the joys of friendship and interacting with their peers. By the time your child reaches the age of 4 or 5 the need for friendships and playing with peers becomes very important to them.
The key is taking small steps that encourage positive social interaction without being overly pushy. You want to give your child rewarding social experiences that leave them wanting more.
As a parent/guardian you can help! Below are a few tips to help your child build lasting friendships and confidence around other children.
• Bring your child along as you go out in the world and interact with others. Children learn by watching and seeing you successfully interact with people you don’t know very well can help your child to learn some of these skills.
• Give your child opportunities to meet and interact with peers. Whether through play dates, group activities like story time, music classes, etc. or frequent visits to a local playground, the more your child is able to meet and interact with peers, the more opportunities he will have to develop and practice emerging social skills.
• Model the behaviors that you would like to see in your child. Listen to his thoughts, feelings, ideas and stories. Be kind to others, greet them, give compliments, show empathy. Avoid complaining. Have a sense of humor about your own weaknesses.
• When arranging play dates, start small. Begin with one friend for one hour and then gradually increase the length of time and number of friends as your child’s skills grow. This will help to avoid frustrating or over stimulating your child.
• Every child has a different personality and it is important to teach them to respect that. But sometimes, just as with adults, personalities clash and not all pairings end up as friends. Whether or not your child’s toddler-aged friend is a friend for life or a friend for right now, teaching friendship skills early can help all of you feel more comfortable.