33 answers

Interfering in My Son's Social Situations

My 9 year old son has always been shy. He is in third grade and has a handful of friends. We have regular playdates with about two boys, but he shows no interest in meeting other kids. He has tried sports before and didn't like it, so his socializing with kids his age occurs at school and church. When we are at parks and McDonalds, I always encourage him to go up to boys his age and start to play with them. Most of the time, the boys have allowed him to start playing. Yesterday a group of boys his age walked into the McDonalds play area. Since they looked like they were having fun, I encouraged my son to play with them. He kept saying he didn't want to and just sat with me. I finally told him that he could have extra Wii time if he made an effort to play with them. He then tried to join them and they said to each other, "hey there's that creepy kid." My son immediately walked back over to me and was very upset. I felt terrible and we left. My question is...do I stop pushing him to be more social with kids he doesn't know? Only encourage playing with classmates instead? I don't want this to happen again. I know that he may be "wired" to be a shy person, but it has affected him in school. His teacher wants him to talk more in school and has marked him down for his lack of participation in group activities. So I feel I should push him a bit. Any advice??

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I cen't think of anything worse than being forced to go talk to someone I don't feel comfortable in doing so. Just because you seem to be very outgoing doen't mean he is made up that way. If he has a few friends, be glad, and don't push. If he is happy, that is what is important, if he seems sad and wants more social that is a different story. (IF) and only if he is interested in projects like 4-H or boy scouts, that would be a way for him to interact with people with like interests without feeling like a sore thumb so to speak.

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When I was a kid I had 1 friend I was shy and didn't want to meet other people. Later in my teens my parents pushed me to go to teen activities I was miserable at them.
My Mom was shy and didn't really start going out to meet new people until she was in her 20's
Today when I tell my friends I was a shy child they don't believe me. I'm now that annoying happy bubbly person.
I would let him be.

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Hi M.. I have read through most of the responses and just wanted to add that being shy is painful when the expectation to not be shy is what is rewarded. Not everyone is going to be group minded or oriented and that is a very good thing. I like the ideas of finding the activities and situations that he likes and thrives in. You may be an outgoing person yourself so they may not be immediately obvious to you so be open and his needs and wants will hopefully present themselves to you. Good luck!

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First off I just want to say that my heart aches for you and your son. My older son is "different" and even at 6 I see the way other children react to him. I can see us in your situation very easily.

My nephew went through a period (I think 3rd grade) where he didn't have any friends and the other kids "didn't like him". The school ended up putting him in a program where they basically taught him social skills. They metafter school and it was done with a small group of kids. Every since then my nephew has had no problem making friends (he is 17 now). This was in the Plano school district, but ask your school district if they have something like that. I know that there are counselors who do the same (I see them advertised), but I'd try the school first since that would be free :)

Good luck!

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My husband was a "shy" kid in school and only had a handful of friends. I was a bit more outgoing and had a lot of "friends". Now that we're in our late 20s, guess who still has the best kind of friends? My husband! He's been friends with his friends since they were 4 and 6 years old! I'm still on good terms with my friends, but I'm not as close to them as my husband is with his.

Also - my husband & I both stopped participating in school because we were the smartest kid in the class and we were both made fun of for that, so we just stopped participating. Maybe your son is bright too, but doesn't want to draw attention to himself because he's been teased before. Encourage him to participate more, but don't punish him for not. And have a chat with his teacher - it's wrong of them to grade him down for that.

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I cen't think of anything worse than being forced to go talk to someone I don't feel comfortable in doing so. Just because you seem to be very outgoing doen't mean he is made up that way. If he has a few friends, be glad, and don't push. If he is happy, that is what is important, if he seems sad and wants more social that is a different story. (IF) and only if he is interested in projects like 4-H or boy scouts, that would be a way for him to interact with people with like interests without feeling like a sore thumb so to speak.

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I guess I am at a loss as to why you think it is a good idea to encourage your son to approach strangers, no matter how young they look. You obviously are making him uncomfortable, and if this were you, how would you have felt? He will come out of his shell to whom he wants, and when he wants, stop encouraging potentially dangerous encounters.

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Acting classes take away shyness and boost confidence. You will probably see a difference imediately. I just read the other responses and I never took martial arts but I think it could have the same effect as acting classes and is probably a lot easier to find for his age group.
I remember getting graded for class participation also, even in college-in French class participation was 25% of the grade in high school and college, also in legal studies in college-class participation was 20% of your grade-our professor used socrates method.

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I read through many of the responses, though not all, but I do not believe that anyone mentioned martial arts. I, too, was shy as a child, nothing changed for me until I joined martial arts. It is an individual sport, but comes with a lot of team-like interaction and support. If your son is interested, you may try it. I came out of my shell, my "poindexter" brother also came out of his shell, and became very successful and outgoing as an adult. He is brilliant, and was often picked on for being smart and geeky. His self confidence grew, he got his black belt, he was never picked on again, and he went on to MIT, and always took pride in his intelligence. Quite the change from before martial arts, where he never wanted anyone to know he was smart, and would not answer questions in school for fear of being picked on... I also saw it change many other introverted kids in my karate school in very positive ways. Good luck to you and your son.

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You have a lot of great responses and I agree with most if not all of them, but I thought I would share my response as well.

I was extremely shy growing up as many of the other responders. My mom also made an effort to encourage me to make friends and I would get so frustrated and angry (quietly of course). I would find reasons NOT to like the other girls and give my mom that reason when she would start up. I agree that the McDonalds thing would have terrified me, but I know you were doing what you thought was best and you shouldn't feel bad for that.

My mom did back down on the socializing part because I did have a few very close friends on my street and at school and dance, but when it came to participation in class, she did not give up. She would get upset with me especially if I wasn't doing well in a particular subject. She didn't care if I answered the teacher's question, but she told me that if I got a bad grade on something and did not ASK the teacher for help that I would be in trouble. So she made a deal. If I raised my hand and asked the teacher 5 questions a week (1 per day) it would help me with my grades. At first, I would quietly walk up to the teacher and ask her. I guess my mom told this deal to my teacher and she was reporting back because my mom sang my praises to high heaven everytime i would ask a question. I soon became so proud of myself, that I was eager to go to class and I would think of questions to ask. After a while, I began answering the teachers questions and I became the champion of "Around the world". (A game where you go by each persons desk and you have to answer the teacher's question before the other person can)

I think my mom knew that would happen and she was willing to be patient. I think the key was to allow me to become confident and proud of myself rather than pleasing her. I was also #11 for her so she had been around the bin once or twice. =)

On another note, my mom would have marched right up to that school and had a discussion with the teacher AND the principal about those grades! Again, the key is confidence and self esteem. Grading him down won't help either of those.

Good luck with your little boy. I know you love him and want the best for him. Just give him lots of love and tell him everyday. He'll remember that ALWAYS!!

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I think the first two responses were great. I was shy when I was growing up - particularly at that age. It breaks my heart to hear about your son's struggles.

I wore these coke bottle glasses and did well in school. As you can imagine, I didn't really "fit in". I had several experiences similar to what happened to you and your son at McDonald's. Getting contacts when I was 13 certainly helped and by high school, my social situation improved because the pool of students was so much larger. By college, I made a lot of great friends and I would consider myself a social and happy adult. I have told you that so that you know that it won't necessarily always be this way.

I am so encouraged to hear that there are programs out there that help children with socialization now. My mom did not push me, she just let me be me and always told me that I was smart and special and that she loved me. She encouraged me that I would find friends I liked, it would just take time. She discouraged me from joining the mean girl group just to have "friends".

As far as marking him down on his grades, I think you need to have a discussion with the teacher, maybe even the principal, and the special ed teacher as suggested. My fear would be that it could discourage him academically as well. Since he does feel left out socially, he needs something to help him feel successful. If school and grades are his things, and he is getting marked down for participation, I don't think that is fair. I'm sure elementary school education has changed a lot in the past 20+ years, so maybe I am out of line. I am just speaking from the perspective of the "weird" kid - who turned out okay!

One other thought... have you considered music? It's an activity that does not require a lot of social interaction up front. However, there are recitals 1 - 2 times a year and competitions. If he enjoyed music, these recitals would get him out in front of groups of people. Also, it may help him find a group of kids he has something in common with. If he stuck to it, he might even enjoy band or orchestra in Jr. High, which would expand his social network as well.

You have had lots of good advice. I just want to reiterate that you should go have a conference with the teacher. I taught for quite a while before staying home with my kids. MOST teachers will bend over backwards to help your kids. Go and talk about how shy he is and if there is a way to work it out - ie; be graded on (like a previous poster said) asking or answering one question a day and adding to that as his comfort level rises. Have the teacher ask the questions one on one. If she is going around the room, let him know ahead of time what she'll be asking and when she'll ask him (I'll ask you {blank}... and you'll be the 4th one.)These are just a few examples off the top of my head. I am sure that she/he will work with you and if not, time to speak to the counselor or principal along with that teacher, but try just with the teacher first.
Good luck~

There is a book that might help you understand how your son is feeling. It is called, The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child: Helping Your Child Thrive in an Extroverted World, By Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

Hope this helps.


on the other hand...
you did say your son does have friends.. a handful. That is great. It is okay if he is not comfortable making friends with kids in random unfamilar places. I understand your concern, but pushing is probably not the best way.

I would talk to his teacher and discuss your concern. I had a kindergartener when I taught who was selectively mute. He wouldn;t alot me until December. And I was the only adult he would talk to at the school. I don't think it entirely appropriate that his teacher is marking him down for lack of participation when he is shy. Ask her if there is other ways he can show participation...

Good Luck!

I have a son who is ten and shy as well. Like your son, he has a few friends that he sticks to, and rarely makes new friends. I know it is hard to watch him not playing with anyone, but I would not push him. I understand why you do, but I think it may do more harm than help. He may begin to feel inadequate as far as the ability to make new friends, as well as may feel he is letting you down in the process. I think his teacher should understand that not all children are outspoken. I understand about taking them out of their shell, but not all are ready, especially in third grade. My son has said that he prefers to work alone rather than in groups, because not all the ideas are good ones (to him) and they don't listen to his. Because of this, his teacher puts him in smaller groups, instead of 4 or 5 kids, she puts him in groups of 2 or 3, which seems to work out better. I've never been an extrovert and only have a handful of friends myself, although they are very good friends I have had for most of my life. I do not know if this a stage your son is going through, or he has always been like this (my son has always been like this), but I would personally not push, and perhaps talk to his teacher, she should know how to accommodate children's different personalities. I am lucky we live in a small community with a small school system, everyone has been very nice and accommodating (I also have a 13 yo daughter who is VERY outgoing; every year her teachers comment on her talkativeness). Good luck, I hope everything works out.

I encourage you not to push it and leave him be. My eldest daughter is not shy, but has never made friends easily. She is likable enough, but it's just not her thing -- she tends to be a bit of a loner. But it took me a while to realize it and relax about it. I, too, would always "strongly encourage" her into socializing. But overall it just didn't work well. In the end I had to ask myself "is she happy the way things are" and the answer was yes. So that is what I suggest you ask yourself. It sounds like your son has some friends who he is comfortable with, and that should be enough as long as he seems happy with it.

Gosh, I'm sorry your boy is having a hard time adjusting. I have no advice, just want to tell you I feel for you and pray for a happy outcome.

I don't know if this would apply to you son, but my daughter is more than painfully shy, I've found out that she has Selective Mutism. I hope you find the best way to deal with your son shyness, but I agree with the other posters, don't push him, but just give a lot of comfort and encouragement.


I cringed on the inside as I read your note. I feel the same way about my son - but for a different reason. My son is VERY extroverted, but he is completely NOT very talented when it comes to athletic skills. Just yesterday, I took my kids to a playground where there were TONS of kids running and playing and he did not join them. He seemed perfectly happy playing by himself, but it makes me sad because he cannot keep up with the other kids. I personally do not push my son to do any thing with other kids that he doesn't want to do. I figure that he will find his own way. And, I KNOW that other kids can be vicious and I would rather not push him into that.

M., Your concerns are valid. I have 3 children and 1 is very shy, so if it hadn't been for church friends, she might not have done as well. Children wil be "children" no matter what, but generally, "church children" are being raised with the idea that GOD loves all of us equally, and we are to do the same. From what I can tell, they seem to be more accepting. You might try finding a bible believing church in your area. You'd be surprised what GOD can do for your son and family. It's a great foundation for the rest of the world, now and later. GOD'S blessings to you and yours.

I thought I would throw in a response from someone who actually used to be a 9 year old boy. Not everyone in the world is a Type A extrovert; most the most part, I would say to leave your son alone. On the other hand, I do not like how his grades are adversely affected (wether or not that is a valid grading category is a whole other topic). So, the key is to encourage socialization in a way that is not so obvious and forceful - I think you learned that lesson at the McDonald's playground. Boys will be boys, of all sorts. If the school is grading him poorly on social skills, there had better be an improvement program available from the school. And even better if the program is disguised as something fun and extra-curricular. But even so, I still advise for the most part to leave the kid alone and let him find his own way.

Hi M.,
My daughter now 12 is getting much better but she is extremely shy. When she was a baby she used to scream when a stranger approached. It took her a long time to get used to the child care givers and we could never hire a baby sitter other than family members.
She is smart, funny and quite popular among kids but is very shy. It's just her personality that we can't do much. My other child, a 9 year old boy is very easy going. I don't think pushing your son towards group activities would help if he is not ready. If he is confortable and friendly with a group of friends that he knows well, I believe there's is nothing wrong. My daughter would never join a group of kids that she didn't know. She tried basketball for a while but was too shy and too polite to stand the sport! She is in a swim team now, it fits her since the kids practice in a group but it's not a team sport.
It could be something related to self estime. If your son has a hobby or particular interest, sport or music where he can excel, that would help to boost his self estime.
You might want to talk to the school councelor or your pediatrician. Teachers sometimes are too busy to notice behavior issues (unless they are disturbing or distracting for the classroom!)

Hope this helps.


Is your son unhappy? Is he asking you for help with this "situation". If not then it could be your problem, more than his.Not all children are outgoing and there is simply nothing wrong with that. Think about when you are an adult. Most adults have a few good friends they can rely on. We have learned how to be "friendly" when we must, for business purposes and in large social situations when we "must" socialize.We learn this over years and years, not as children generally. If your son has a couple of pals, he is just fine.

His teacher should be fired. No child should be graded on participation. It has nothing to do with their intellect and should never adversly affect grades. If your teacher won't come around to that point of view, go to the principal. If there is still a problem, you are in the wrong school.

We are here to love, protect and gently guide our children.
We must love them for who they are at each particular phase and patiently allow them to unfold into the human being they are destined to become.Often, as parents, we overthink these situations when we should just relax. If your child is asking for help, that is another story but until he does, let him find his own friends in his own way.

I agree that martial arts is an excellent way to build self-confidence, as well as discipline, and promotes healthy living, not to mention self-defense. Talk to your child. Find out what piques his curiosity-what kind of activities interest him the most? Find out how he feels-does he get picked on by other kids for participating in class? Does he feel his teacher is being unfair? Sit him down and talk over a game of checkers or something-I find it's easier to talk to kids if they can be playing a game with you-they tend to open up and say more than just I Dunno, because they're enjoying themselves with you. Sometimes it's the quietest kids who need you to listen the best. They won't often volunteer anything, even if they are hurting. Encourage him to be open with you, and let him know you're on his side and are willing and able to help. Mommy power can go a LONG way when your child realizes you're his biggest fan and supporter! Good luck to you and him-hopefully this experience will bring you closer as a family.

Sounds so familiar I have 5 children 4 daughters 1 son they range from 25 to 31 my son is 26 now,he to was very shy growing up I also used to encourage him to play with other children at places and they seem not to wont my son around either our son was so quite that one of his teachers called us in for a meeting she suggestion we put him in ESL that is for students that dont speak english only spanish he was in the 11 grade then I said I'm sorry but my son dont speak spanish are understand it to her surprize she was like you mean he is just that quite he passed her class with a b my son never got anything below an E expect in her class she gave him a S I guesss she was annoyed by him being quite,I finally just had to leave him alone and let him play with his 2 best cousins and his one best friend but if I hear kids talking about him are making fun I would let them know ,I would just said you know that wasnt very nice and it would catch them off guard and they would leave the area.But thru the years I still encourage him to join things I just didnt tell him why,and he went on to join the Marine's and was with the Special Forces in IQRA guess what is nickname was Ghost some things never change. But he is a happy young man today and looks back and laughs about how shy he was he still dont talk as much as his sisters but he still has that one best friend from first grade they joined the Marines togather and my son even got married,as for that teacher she needs to find a new Job.

From 4 STAR MOM Riojas

If you son has a couple of good friends that he's comfortable with, I tend to agree with the other ladies who say he's fine. My 9 year old son is reserved, but not what I would call shy. Even though he has a number of boys he is friendly with, he really only has time to play with a couple of them on a regular basis.
My niece, like your son, was extremely shy all through elementary school. She's a soccer player and as she excelled at that, it gave her confidence that spilled over to the other parts of her life. Other kids noticed her talent and commented on it. Now she's a HS sophomore and very comfortable with herself and meeting other kids. My sister would say that it was having her in something that she excelled in and gave her self-confidence. I don't think it has to be sports. It could be

I don't think pushing him out in the general public in areas where he is clearly struggling will help. You never know what kids will say. Sometimes they can be so cruel.

I do agree with the other people who have recommended church groups, if you feel that they would offer an environment where he could thrive. 9 is a hard age for that because sometimes they are in large Sunday school classes. Our church has a great program for kids once they are in 5th grade (for grades 5 &6) where they have little small groups for the kids. That way the kids get to know a small group of kids well and they do fun things with the kids to take their minds of how awkward they might feel. Maybe your church has something like that you can get your son involved in. To get him started, maybe you our your husband could volunteer to help out.

Since he is not sports oriented have you thought of drama? I am sure there are acting classes in your area. They might help him with his shyness. There are techniques to help with breathing and other things that might give him the tools to deal with new people and situations.

Praying for your family...

I think you should relax. If what you say is true, that he has a handful of friends in school and church then he knows who he is comfortable with. His personality will find the people who wish to be around him and he with them.

Blessings to you and your family.

9 is a tough age. Kids have pretty much decided what other types of children that they tend to click or get along with. If you want to encourage him to make more friends, perhaps do it when your son has the upper hand. Like when he's at his regular playdate, encourge him while playing with those kids to invite a new one to play with them.

Other children really tend to gang up and pick out/on the ones they see as weaker. Having him approach a group of kids without being invited can be setting him up for failure.

It's a very delicate thing to invade a group that your not already a part of. Just like as grown ups we always feel akward going to a new job or a new social group that another friend didn't specifically invite us to join.

I have a son that is now 20 and remember doing the same thing. He always got along with others but was never interested in making many friends and because of that only has a few. I would encourage him to talk to others but it should be just an encouragement. It also helps if he is involved in sports or activities with others that he enjoys doing. Sports, church youth groups or Boy scouts are some ideas that I would suggest. good luck and I do think people are 'wired' a certain way.

When I was a kid I had 1 friend I was shy and didn't want to meet other people. Later in my teens my parents pushed me to go to teen activities I was miserable at them.
My Mom was shy and didn't really start going out to meet new people until she was in her 20's
Today when I tell my friends I was a shy child they don't believe me. I'm now that annoying happy bubbly person.
I would let him be.

This sounds so much like me as a child! I had 2 or 3 very close friends, but I was extremely shy to the point that I would never raise my hand in class, or even walk to the pencil sharpener or to get a tissue. And forget about asking if I could go to the restroom! (I'd never heard of selective mutism, but after reading the responses below, I looked it up - turns out that's not what I have, because I did outgrow my shyness.) Please don't try to force him to make friends with people when you're at places like McDonald's - that would have been absolutely terrifying to me as a child, and I would have felt guilty that I wasn't able to do what my mom asked me to do. You say he has a handful of friends - if he has 2 or 3 friends that he's close enough to to spend time with out of school, I'd say he's doing as well as most kids! My brother was a total social butterfly, not shy at all and actually quite popular, but he only had a handful of friends he was close enough to to spend the night with, invite to birthday parties, etc.

I remember having teachers (especially in junior high and high school) who said we would be graded on participation, which always worried me at the start of the school year, since I knew I couldn't bring myself to participate. Luckily, I never got graded down for it, though my mom had to intervene more than once on my behalf with teachers for various reasons (my mom was a teacher, so she never approached these meetings as "us vs. them," but she was very clear with the teachers about her expectations). I agree that you need to talk to his teacher and principal. He can't be the only shy kid the teacher has ever encountered. Please don't think that there's anything "wrong" with your son. As time went by, I had plenty of friends, and by the time I got to high school I was the newspaper editor and in the band, and I had a very active social life. Good luck to you and your son! You sound like a very good mom.

i think Tina's response was great. I would add that I don't think you should push him, even gently, right now. That was a devestating experience - shame on those boys for being cruel - what a particularly ugly thing to say. I'm so sad y'all experienced that; it says so much more about them than it does about your son!

Another avenue you might consider is taking him for a few sessions at the Center for Social Success. I know someone who took their daughter there after she began experiencing "mean girl" stuff at school in second grade. She is now in the 4th grade and is doing so well! She went for group play therapy sessions. I don't know all the details but I heard the owner of the center, Dr. Susan Istre, speak at a MOPS meeting and was very impressed. Check out the website at www.dristre.com for more info. That may really help him to feel more comfortable around others and to just know that he really is okay just the way he is. Growing up can be so hard! Hugs to both of you. Oh, after reading that last line again, I would talk with his teacher and perhaps the principal about the group participation thing. I think it is just going to backfire to push him or mark his grades down, if this is his struggle. Enlist the aid of the school counselor (She could possibly set up some group play therapy herself to help him and others work on social skills), and be firm with the teacher and principal that you feel this is not the right way to address this issue. He needs lots of encouragement and support, not punishment for being shy or feeling distant from others. If they resist, you might (on your own) contact the special ed teacher for his campus and ask for advice. They are incredibly resourceful in dealing with all kinds of issues, and while he may not be one of "their" students, they have a big heart for all kids who have struggles. Bottom line is, I would try to get him some help but I would stop pushing him. That isn't working well.

Your son is shy and quiet and you have to accept that that is the person he is meant to be. I read some of the responses that mentioned that your child is "different" because he is shy. Everyone is different and being shy doesn't make you strange or weird or different. I was a shy child and have become more comfortable around others as I have grown up, but that came from me being ready to take that step, not someone pushing me to. Even as a much more confident adult, I would never walk up to a group of strangers at a restaurant and ask to join them, so why would you ask your son to do this? As far as his teacher goes, I would speak with her immediately. I would be furious if my child was marked down because of his personality. I taught 2nd and 3rd grade for 7 years and would have never penalized a student for being shy. That is cruel and unfair. I say stop pushing him and let him be who he is. When you push him to be someone else, you are saying "I don't like who you are". Of course, you love your son and want the best for him, but it is his decision how and when to make new friends, not yours. I think he sounds like a very normal child who happens to have a quiet and reserved personality. What is wrong with that?

I would talk to his Pediatrician to get the best advice. Make a consultation appointment and don't take your son along.

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