19 answers

3-Year-old Too Shy Participate in Group Class Activities

I've been taking our three-year-old to a Little Learners class. It's like a pre, pre-school. The parents stay with them and they do a little gathering at the beginning and sing a hello song, and a few other songs, etc. Then they have stations they can do as they want for the rest of the time. At the end, the group gathers again to say goodbye,and get a stamp. My little boy is just fine for the "on your own" stuff, but he cries to be held and tries to run off during the group singing. I think it is just a phase, or maybe he is just shy because they sing directly to him during one of the songs where they say hello to each child. I make him stay in the group and won't let him run off to the stations until it is time, but he just hangs on me and won't do anything and hides his head. My husband takes him to a little sports class and he does the same thing there most of the time during group instruction. When it is time for free play the last few minutes, he's fine.

He's been at home with me most of his life. He was in full-time daycare for 8 months last year and did fine.

Has anybody had a similar experience with shyness or this type of behavior? Thanks!

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So What Happened?™

Thank you so much to all for your input. Today my husband took him a little earlier because before they had gotten there right on time when the gym was full, and that's when he seemed to shut down being overwhelmed by the other parents and kids. They got there before anybody today and he was able to get comfortable with the surroundings before anybody got there, and he did much better. He still had his shy moments, but that's okay. I think it will be good to just keep taking him so he can have fun when he wants to and be exposed to the other children. Thanks again, everyone!

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When my son was little and I was a stay at home mom, I couldn't get him to participate in the group activities at Gymboree, either. But he just marches to his own drummer, nothing to worry about. He gets along fine with his classmates. 2- and 3-year olds just don't always fit into a mold.

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I am curious about the class that you send your son to. I have a 21/2 year old son who is a total mama's boy. I have him signed up for preschool in the fall, but I am not sure if he will be ready. I would love to find a class that I can also attend too. Could you please let me know a little more about the Little Learners class?
As far as your dilemma...it just sounds like your son is not ready yet for the whole group experience by himself. He will be someday. Good luck and thank you in advance for the info. about Little Learners.

My daughter was VERY shy at classes we took at Brookfield Zoo. When we did circle time, and say a hello song to each person, she would cry after we said her name. She just turned four and we did another class. She had absolutely no problem with it at all. I think it is just a faze.

When my son was little and I was a stay at home mom, I couldn't get him to participate in the group activities at Gymboree, either. But he just marches to his own drummer, nothing to worry about. He gets along fine with his classmates. 2- and 3-year olds just don't always fit into a mold.

My son who is now almost 4 was the same way. He has started to become more comfortable without me but he is still very cautious and shy and would much rather stay home with me than go to preschool or a class. My husband and son did the same type of sports class and I did the same type of Little Learners class, my son had the same reactions as yours.
I found a Park District class last fall that was without me, it was short, small and low key, it was the first time there weren't total tears (if you want to know more about it please email me). I recommend to still sign him up for classes, acknowledge his feelings but tell him he still has to go and encourage, encourage, encourage.
Signing my son up for preschool when he turned three was almost painful for me because I was so worried he would be so sad and miserable. I'll be honest, it wasn't easy for him or me and we still have rough days but it was probably the best thing for him.
My husband and I went through feeling like it was our fault and our son had low self-esteem. You know what? it's his personality, I think my son will always be timid and shy and we are okay with that.
I hope knowing your not alone brings some comfort.

My first daughter was very shy also. I tried Gymboree with her and she did the exact same thing that you are describing. I was at home with her always and if she wasn't with me, she was with daddy or her grandparents. We put her in a little learners class at 3 also, but the parent only got to stay with the first day, after that, they were dropped off just like school. The first time she cried (she wasn't the only one) and sat under the table the entire class time. By the third or fourth time, she went in no problem. By the middle of the year, she was so much more outgoing, even her teachers had said what a transformation she had made. She will be starting kindergarten in the fall and she has no problems going up to other children or teachers now. The one that we had her in was through the Hampshire Park District and it was wonderful. Maybe your son might need something like that because he sounds exactly like my daughter was.

WOW...you've had alot of feedback on this one!! It's sooo comforting to know there are many others out there with a similar dilemma. We want to socialize our "only" child, and are finding he is on the "shy" side. He spends most of the time with adults - me, hubby and family members, although we have done countless toddler classes. Now he is 3, alot of the classes are drop-off classes. He loves interacting with us and is very talkative etc, but take him to a class and he just stands to the side - but takes everything in!! We have the "pep" talk before-hand and he understands, but gets overwhelmed I think with the other kids. He is naturally observant, and knows the answers to the questions being asked...but will not budge an inch. I know we are not supposed to compare our kids, but I see so many of the others so socially adept and I get dishearted - when I shouldn't. I myself know I was shy as a child so it's probably to an extent "inherited" - and thankfully yes, I did eventually grow out of it!
Thanks for asking this question, as I am going through exactly the same thing, but it sounds like it's a phase which they will eventually grow out of. I look forward to the day I see him participating from start to finish, and can't wait to tell me about his day in class!! Good luck!

my son has always been highly cautious and unsure of new situations and still is at 4.5 years old. while he did pretty well at group gymnastics classes, he's definitely still getting used to group soccer instruction and only lasts 15-20 minutes out of the hour-long class before wandering off and complaining that he's too tired, too hot, too shy or whatever excuse seems like it would work at the time. it is hard to see and i'm trying to enforce keeping him engaged in watching what the other kids are doing in class rather than wandering off and doing his own thing -- if he sees them having fun i'm hoping he'll eventually drift back and join in. i was pretty shy as a child and see that in his personality as well.

keeping up the exposure is important, it takes time but they do need to learn to deal with groups and organized activities because they are a fact of life. one thing that helps with my son is letting him know in advance what's coming up and what my expectations are. after a bad class we talk about it and i just say we'll try again next week and maybe you'd like to try playing this with them or that. so he knows we'll be going back and has some time to get used to the idea and prepare a bit. as we're heading to an activity i talk a little about what he might do there and the other kids and the coach/teacher so he gets more familiar with names. and also mention that i'd like him to stay with his class and have a fun time trying things out. when opportunities present themselves to maybe see some of the same kids in a less-organized activity, that might help break the ice and make him more comfortable. also smaller group activities are an easier base and then move up to activities with bigger groups and more structure.

Is there a possiblitiy to stay with him during this time until he is comfortable for you to leave and a transition is made. My son sometimes needs more time with hugs and kisses before I leave. Then sometimes he likes to push me out the door, as it is a way he feels more in control. I also have to check my needs and it is hard for me to let him go and he is picking up on that.

I know that the more I get frustrated and feel hurried, he gets more needy. So I try to look relaxed and just give him his time (I plan for it).

I am actually online right now researching this very same thing. My son will be 3 in a few weeks and I probably could have written your exact same post. My son is doing the same thing. He screams at the park unless I am going down the slide with him. He is in a pre preschool too and has been going for 6 months and plays fine with the class...but when we are in new places or unfamiliar places he is very scared and timid. We had a baby 7 months ago so I am unsure if its related to that....I feel your pain and hope you know you're not alone. I will continue to look for answers or explanations too...although every tells me this is just a stage.

good luck :)

I also had a very shy 3 year old who has now come out of his shell. I found that it helped him to know some of the other children on his turf. So I invited children over for play dates. After he had them in his house and got to know them he was just fine in the group setting. Now at age five he does wonderfully in social situations, still slightly shy at first but joins in and participates in the activities. Good luck.

My son wasn't particularly shy and yet he sometimes would break down in tears when everybody started singing and playing loud tamvbourine music in wiggleworms. He would cling to me in misery. Now he is not a music hater, on the contrary- partially I think it was just too loud and somehow it frightened him. We can't assume children should somehow react all the same to various situations. He is an individual. Why worry about it? Let him be who he is and he will continue to grow and thrive. Another example is I myself was a painfully shy child. I liked the preschool activities but I was utterly mortified when anyone tried to talk to me, especially grown ups. I would hide my head and try to get away. But it would've been much better had my Mom understood it instead of making me feel bad about it which undoubtedly made it worse. Group activities can be overwhelming for litttle ones.

You are doing a great thing just to try and expose him to children his own age. My children would get shy in some social situations but I would try not to emphasize "how shy" they were acting or, letting them hear constantly "oh, my son is so shy" - I don't think that's healthy because, I have heard parents say it over and over about their kids as if it's a bad thing - a label. I've always been a stay-at-home mom. My son and daughter, both, are very social, but can have a shy streak. In due time, he'll find his own comfort level. He'll just keep watching your clues and how you socialize and he'll learn. Hopefully the clinginess will taper off. It's fun to watch them grow and mature. Good luck.

My son never liked the circle stuff during the short time he was in preschool. I didn't blame him- I mean, I would be totally weirded out if a group of people started singing directly to me, lol! Why should we expect kids to feel differently?

Quite honestly, I feel all the sing-songy talk and structured social stuff (a.k.a. "circle time") you see in most preschools is pretty unnatural and not like people interact in real life at all. That's one thing I appreciate about Montessori schools- there's more of a natural and respectful atmosphere, and the children are able to structure their own time and choose what is meaningful for them. Homeschooling, which is what we've chosen, also provides that.

Also, three is so young! If he feels supported by you and is allowed to stretch his independence on his own schedule, he will be so much more secure in the long run (in social situations, and, more importantly, in his own skin :).

I have had a similar situation with my oldest son, who is now 5. He is still shy, but he's getting much better. It was the worst when he was 3. Then, when he started preschool at around 3.75 years he started coming out of his shell. I think the key is for you to continue to get him involved in social activities as much as possible. If he wants to be held, then hold him for a little bit them try to put him down. Tell him you know it is hard, but he has to stay with the circle time group and do what the teacher says. So, try to comfort him but push him slowly to try things without you. It is very frustrating as a parent to see this happen, but some kids are just shy and that is who they are. The key is to try to get him comfortable with group activities by doing as many as you can do with him to build up his self esteem and courage. I put my son in daycare for one day a week to also help him in being without me. Most classes for 3 year olds are without parent, well my child would cry. So, no one was really willing to work with me on that, so we had to find classes where I was with him. Well, that didn't really help him learn to cope without me. So, I did the daycare. It helped some. But, I think it mostly took time for him. His preschool helped tremendously as well. He still crys at times and is pretty shy, but hopefully he is getting more comfortable.

Our daughter is two and she has been home with me since she was born. She has also spent time with her grandparents, but not a lot with other kids.
We signed her up for a tumbling class through our park district and at first she didn't want to do or interact with anyone but me or her dad.
We just signed her up for the same class again and she is doing much better. Her only problem now is staying focused.
I think the key with anything is consistency.

My son was also shy during circle time. Many times he would turn around and face the other direction. This was when he was when he went to 2 and 3 year old preschool. When he started preschool this year he completely came out of his shell and participates in class. I think it came with age. He spent his first year in daycare and then has been home with me ever since. Hang in there. As your son gets older he will get more comfortable being in a group setting.

Hi Kimberly,
I did have a similar experience with this with my son. When i enroilled him in a small music class when he was 2 1/2 or 3 years old, he often did not want to participate and join in the actions of the songs and fingerplays and did want to escape the circle. He also would act anxious when told we were going there. He is an extremely well- behaved boy, very quiet and mild mannered overall so this new behavior concerned me as a parent. I kept bringing him there and over time, he did a little better but I didn't sign him up again for the class. I chose different classes, which he reacted better to. He is now 4 and goes to preschool and does great there but initially there, they commented that he was very quiet for the 1st half of the year before opening up to show them his personality. I think he does have some anxiety issues as he does act anxious when preparing for an activity for school which he will have to stand in front of the class but he also seems excited. I wouldn't worry too much as my son has adjusted just fine and your son will probably also. I enrolled my son in a class at my park district where they had free play in a gym and then transitioned to a classroom where stations were set up and they could freely work at the staitions with their parent as they wished. Then they had a combined snack/story. IT was an awesome class, my son loved it and it took the pressure off having that attention on him but also gave him the pre preschool experience and opportunity for socialization.

Three is very young. Especially for little boys, just waiting another six or 12 months may make a big difference. That said, perhaps he's just a shy person. We live in a culture that does not reward shyness; actually, it frowns on it. Yet, shyness is not a disease; it's just a kind of temperament that nearly 20% of people manifest. I suggest you read the book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron. If it turns out that your son is among the shy persons of the world, it will behoove you to have the information shared in the book to help you help your child understand himself as well as how others respond to him. The world screams "not okay" to the shy person; he or she needs positive reinforcement from caregivers to grow and bloom.

As the parent of an extremely shy little girl who has grown into a lovely and confident young woman, I can affirm that reading this book made a tremendous difference in her life.


Does she have a close friend that she could do this program with. Sometimes having a friend to hold your hand helps get through scary situations.


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