3 Year Old Shyness

Updated on August 04, 2011
K.N. asks from Collegeville, PA
11 answers

Hi. My son is three year old and there are certain situations that he has become extremely shy. I feel like this has just developed in the past year and it is only in certain situations. When he's at home I can't get him to stop talking and his daycare teachers all say that he is very social. So one example of this shyness was bout two months ago he was invited to bday for a friend from daycare that was at a bounce house place. He was so excited to go and then we get there and he won't talk to his friends, won't even look at the other moms that were there and was clinging to my leg the whole time. I offered to go in bounce houses with him, pointed out other things that he could do, nothing. I was getting very frustrated and told him that we were going to leave if he wasn't going to play. He did not want to leave and then evenually just decided he was going to go have fun. I just couldn't understand why he was acting this way. He knew all these kids and their parents I know getting upset with him isn't going to help but I'm not sure if allowing him to cling to me is going to help either. Since then there have several more instances of this behavior. Most recently when he broke his arm and had to go the doctor. The Dr. was asking him what happened and was trying to make conversation and he stared at the floor and wouldn't even look at him but as soon as the Dr. left the room, non-stop talking again. I know kids can be shy around people they don't know but I feel like he is just extreme with it and sometimes it comes across as being mean and rude. Not sure how to make him understand that you still look people in the eye and answer their simple questions. When someone says 'hi, how are you' he should say 'fine,' not give them a dirty look. Am I expecting too much from him?
We signed him up for a fall pee wee soccer program through our township and he's really excited about but now I'm worried that we'll get there an he'll refuse to play. He's also in my brother's wedding next month and now I'm nervous that he'll be too shy to walk down the aisle. He was not acting like this when my brother asked him to be in the wedding a year ago. Should I be doing these types of things to help him get over the shyness or should I avoid such situations? What can I do to help him?

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answers from Boca Raton on

I would definitely practice having him walk the aisle the day or two before the wedding so he feels more comfortable, tell him in advance where you'll be and that you'll be waiting for him etc, that way it won't be an entirely new event for him.

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answers from Portland on

I was extremely shy as a child, and it frustrated my mother. She pushed, urged, scolded, and punished me for being what I couldn't help being. It did not help.

I suspect your son would have an easier time adapting to new situations if you did three things: a. Assure him that lots of kids are shy, and you know he will get friendlier or braver just as soon as he's ready. b. Prepare him for new situations by describing what you expect it to be like, and helping him picture himself having fun or talking to the doctor. c. Let him be himself. Stop putting any emphasis at all on his being shy.

All adults have seen shy kids. They don't assume they're just being stubborn and rude (although, if someone kept shoving something at you that you did not want, like yet another social introduction, you might respond with a frown, too). And your son is three. He is still very young, and still has years to learn the social graces.

This is not only an age where kids are finally figuring themselves out as separate beings from their parents, but also when 'autism spectrum' symptoms show up. I'm not suggesting your son is heading for deep trouble, but he may be exhibiting just a touch of Asperger-ish anti-social tendencies. Many kids have these, and they need time and gentle coaching. With my grandson and other kids I babysit, I frequently role-play all sorts of situations so they can experiment with responding different ways. I think this increases their flexibility.

You can also see social caution as a good thing. Kids who take time to evaluate a situation instead of simply throwing themselves into it are less likely to get into trouble.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

Totally normal for this age! My son does this a lot too. We try to pump him up for new activities and places by talking about them a LOT for the days/hours leading up to the event. We give him as much information as we can think of -- what the bounce houses will look like, how you use them, who will be there, that we'll be staying, what he'll eat, etc. It seems to really help when he can predict what will happen, rather than being overwhelmed by unfamiliar things and faces. Also, when he panics and gets shy, we don't leave. I will hold him and reassure him and let him cling, but we don't change our plans. Eventually he will loosen up.

If he has a lovey or stuffed animal he likes, you can bring it along and let it try new things first (have the doctor check the doll's ears, for example. Or ask your son to show the doll around the room).

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I have four kidlets, and they've all gone through this stage (well, except current 13 months old). Parents handle it differently, but the way I deal with it is to let my child choose what to do. I do similar to you and encourage them to play with certain things, offer to go, etc... But if they want to just sit by me, that's fine. They can sit there. Most of the time, after a while, they'll warm up and go play. Depending on the child, some totally open up and are fine...while one of mine was always a bit more insecure until she got older.

I don't worry too much about it. It's really common and normal. Some kids don't do it, but most do. I think pushing them before they are ready can make it take longer for them to get over it. Just let them learn to trust their feelings and make decisions based off of that. I wouldn't leave a party because of it. I'd just give the child more time to warm up.

Good luck! Oh, and I'd be worried about the wedding too;-) You might want to talk to your brother about it prior so he knows your son is going through a stage of being more shy. My kids don't talk to the dr either. Everything you're describing sounds normal to me. Just give it time for the stage to work itself through, and also let them learn to trust their feelings by not being forced into things they aren't comfortable with. Good luck!

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answers from Honolulu on

My daughter, was/is shy.... as she's gotten older, she has blossomed.

We, NEVER, made her feel 'weird' just because she was shy.
That is who she is.
She was like your son.
NO biggie.
My daughter, is very mature, always has been, and KNOWS herself. We always, taught her to BE HERSELF. She is therefore, a very wise/cognizant child about social situations and friends. Because... though 'shy', she is also very observant. And that, is a GOOD thing.
She... knows herself and can astutely evaluate other kids/people. THEN, if she is comfortable and if she wants to, she will engage or not.
THAT is fine and that is good.
She has good, instincts.

Kids, often go through stages of being shy.
NOTHING is 'wrong' with that.
Kids... or adults, do not have to be, gregarious or extroverted.
"Shy" is a 'bad' characteristic to some.
NOT for us or our daughter.
MANY highly successful people and celebrities, are inherently, shy.
So what.

My daughter in 3rd grade, was chosen by her Teacher, as a "Leader" for her class. BECAUSE, though 'shy'... her Teacher saw that she is also very mature and wise... for her age. And my Daughter, excels.... and has many friends. SHE consciously CHOOSES her friends... and she makes, good choices.
She is NOT a "Follower." She is herself. Always.
THAT is a good thing.

So what, if a child is shy.
You cannot expect them to be just extroverted all the time and every place.
Adults are not even that way.

We also do not force, our children, to be a certain way.
We teach them, to go by their instincts. And they have good instincts.
To always... be themselves.
NOT what others want you to be.
They are their own, person.
An individual.

Your son is so young.
At this age, KEEP in mind that their emotions are not even fully developed yet... nor their social aptitude.
Nurture, HIM, for who he is.
Teach him about people... and how to discern people and situations.
I was teaching my kids that since 2 years old.
They are now 8 and 4 years old and are very good, about knowing themselves and others.
Shyness or being extroverted, has nothing to do with, whether one child is better than the other.

Do not ever, make your son feel that something is 'wrong' with him.
Let him be himself.
NOR feel you have to be 'apologetic' to others, just because he is more shy.
We never did that with our daughter.
She is a VERY confident/self-assured child, who is always, herself.

Again, NOTHING is 'wrong' with your child.
MANY kids are this way.
Do not, compare him to others.

Kids, this age or any age, can also be more 'shy'... when tired or over-tired. And they get clingier, at these times as well.

KNOW YOUR child's cues.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

The behavioral psychologist Kevin Lehman asserts that many kids play shy to control the situation because it feels unfamiliar and new. That's ok and understandable.

I don't think it's ok when parents allow a child to be rude by dismissing the behavior or making excuses for them - "oh, they're just shy" - and don't walk/talk them through the situation. These are usually the same parents who are still making excuses for their child's unacceptable behavior when they're in middle school, high school, and beyond.

I think it's worth taking a few moments with them - even in the presence of others - to say "Sweetie, I know this is new and can be a little scary. It's ok to feel shy, but we may not be rude by ignoring people. What do we say when someone says hi?" We're working on this with my 20mo -every single time it's an issue - and he gets it! Keep reinforcing and practicing. Don't underestimate your son. At 3 and beyond, this can definitely become a control issue.

Some people, not just kids!, aren't really great at responding on the spot to something unexpected. Maybe the next time you're going somewhere new, talk to him in the car on the way about what it will be like, who will be there, and what he'll do. Coach him through the social courtesies and if he doesn't want to participate, let him sit them out.

Not every kid wants to just jump in to new things. I don't consider this the same as being rude. It's not really the same as answering when someone asks you something, which is courtesy, it's more like analyzing new settings and situations and deciding how to proceed, which is a personality trait. My husband is definitely more "wired" to be analytical and conservative, whereas I can be almost tragically impulsive -lol! Thankfully our son seems to be a relatively healthy balance of our traits.

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answers from Boston on

Sounds normal to me. I have an extroverted 4 year old but she has moments like that. We had the exact same situation at a bouncy place party. I think it was just so overwhelming to her (it was overwhelming to me). I literally had never seen her react like that to anything. After a few minutes of hanging on to me she decided to go and enjoy and that was fine. I think she needed that time to adjust and get comfortable. If I had gotten mad it wouldn't have helped anything.

She also will react that way to a doctor or other stranger, she needs a minute to warm up. She's not giving them a dirty look, but usually she will look away and not want to talk immediately. That's fine. I use it as a learning situation and model how you respond and we discuss it later. At 3, I don't see where forcing a kid to respond when they are uncomfortable is helpful. Obviously you can't have them being blatantly rude but they need to learn how to read situations. I don't believe teaching my kid she needs to have a conversation with everyone who initiates one with her is a good lesson. If someone I was uncomfortable with initiated a conversation, I don't need to respond. And although clearly if you are there it is a safe situation, i think allowing the kids to figure that out is a good way to learn by watching what you are doing and then talking about it later.

As for the wedding, who knows? I've been at weddings where they forced the kid to do it and that doesn't work. As long as the bride and groom can be flexible then kids are ok in the wedding. So if he decides it is too scary (and that is totally reasonable to be scared by a church full of people all looking at you!) then he doesn't go down the aisle. No use worrying about soccer. Take him and if he needs some time to get used to it before he is willing to participate fine. Many kids need that time. Giving him the security he needs in order to be comfortable will allow him to gain the confidence sooner. Some kids take a little longer but he will get there.

I was extremely shy growing up and if I had been forced to respond it would have made it all much more upsetting.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

My daughter is 4 and is the same way. Although if I am not with her alot of her shyness disappears. She will even hide behind me from family members that she sees at least 3 times a week.

When she went into preschool in the last fall if I volunteer she is hiding behind me and wont want to do anything the teachers ask her to do. But when Im not there she is happy go lucky talks to everyone and does what she is supposed to.

She was in my brother in laws wedding last week. I was willing to bet money that she would not walk down the aisle. I even went as far as having the bridal party spend the whole friday around my daughter. She was still acting shy and didnt want to be with the girls. Come the wedding I would of been out of every penny. She walked down the aisle with a big smile on her face and stayed with the girls thru the whole ceremony. Even after I got up to go into the hall and lite candles she stayed with them.

I would just let him come out of his shell on his own. Kids will always surprise you. If you are acting stressed and upset on how they are acting it only makes them act that way more. I know I have learned if I just stand back and let her warm up and not make a big deal out of it the faster she warms up. Good luck!



answers from Philadelphia on

My nephew was like this. Problem was, my sister fed into it without realizing it. He just turned 16 and is just now coming out of his shell a bit. (he gets poor grades in French class because he refuses to speak in class, but his written work is all A's) Just a couple years ago he was still picking up the phone when it rang but would not utter one sound. I knew it was him and would snap at him to answer me and say hello. He finally grunted a sound at me. My sister's response was, "Oh, he's just shy." Um, that's not normal. Help him!

My sister fed into this by coddling him and not pushing him to do more. He has never spent a night at a friend's house. He's never spent the night at his own grandparents house who he is very very close with and does things with them all the time! Who doesn't love going to their grandparents house to spend the night and get spoiled with treats? I know I loved it!

I had to push my sister to let go and now he will answer the phone and have a small conversation. She even does all the chores and all cooking. The boy doesn't know how to make a sandwich cuz she does it all. I told her she's only hurting her boys (16 and 11) by doing it all. His wife will hate you for not teaching him how to care for himself. How will he be able to hold a job? He barely manages school with anything that is not written. When ever he showed he was too shy for something she'd reel him in and baby him.

My suggestion is to drop him off at parties and leave. It seems that he's using you as an anchor. I know you can't just drop him off at the doctor's but you can at parties and soccer practice and such. You can even drop him off early for his game, drive away and then come back and basically hide behind the bleachers or other people. Many children will go through this but it depends on how the parents react. I've went through this and did just what I suggested by dropping them off and then they have no choice but to open up, and they did. And at the doctor's office or other situations where you have to be with them I demanded that they give respect, period. I would discipline my children at home when we got back and demand that they never be so rude to someone like that again. I wasn't screaming and being mean, but I expect my children to be respectful. They don't have to have lengthy conversations but a one word answer is expected, at least. He's only 3 so one word is fine and politeness is not too much to ask. And when they started showing progress and did well when they normally wouldn't I would treat them and praise them highly on how well they acted and show them just how easy it is. It doesn't take long to snap them out of this.

Please don't be like my sister and coddle. Force them to be more independent. Age 3 is when independence normally comes out. Feed the independence, not the shyness.

K. B
mom to 5 including triplets


answers from Richmond on

Being shy is something kids grow in and out of. My first child is the exception, she will walk away with a stranger for a smile or a hug (this is why I have gray hairs)...

My second child was just like you described your son. She was so painfully shy!! I'd say she's just now growing out of it (she's 6 now)... but like yesterday I asked her to bring our very pregnant neighbor her mail, and she froze 1/2 way up the driveway.

My son is only 19 months old and CRAZY shy one second, then your best friend the next. I'm not sure about that kid ;)

ANYWAY back to my point, YOU should more confidence, and he will too. Let him know that he CAN do it!!... and really believe it!!... he'll start to catch on!! :)



answers from Madison on

I have a 3 yr old son too, and I could have written a similar description about him. :-) So it is very helpful for me too to read other mamas' responses, please keep them coming!

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