How Do I Help My Shy Child at School?

Updated on March 19, 2011
S.G. asks from Bothell, WA
14 answers

My son is 5.5 years old and is in his second year of drop-off preschool. I have been going to play groups with him since he was born, but he continues to be extremely shy with others at school. His teacher says that he never speaks with any of the children although he tends to play near them or with them indirectly. He has no friends since when the kids want to play with him, he will not talk. He only whispers to his teacher as well. I was super shy as a child, but I thought it was because I was an only child and my mother was very overprotective and never had any play dates with me.

At home, he is outgoing and very talkative with us and his little brother. We are a bilingual German/English household, and he speaks and understands both languages. Is there anything I can do to help him become more outgoing at school? Both my husband and I are introverts with few friends, so I guess it should not be a shock to us, but I just want to make sure I am doing everything I can to help him out of his shell. So far, I signed him up for after school gym class which he does not seem to enjoy much and three weeks of Summer camp.

What can I do next?

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answers from Richmond on

Don't help... just wait :) Your little guy will come out of his shell when he's ready :)

I was a painfully shy child and didn't overcome my shyness until I was probably about 10 or 11. I had a choice... either suck it up and play with my 2 little brothers, or make my own friends. I broke out and made my own :)

My 2nd daughter, like your son, was a little chatterbox at home, but around other people (even one's she knew since she was born), she'd hide behind my leg and cry cry cry at preK! Somewhere along the line, after much confidence on MY part, she began to feed off that confidence and developed trust for her teachers and peers. She's now 5 and a little shy, but opens up VERY quickly compared to how she used to be!

As long as you're confident, your child will be too :)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on


My daughter had a problem interacting with girls and what I did was I interacted for her. I would go on field trips and play with the children and add my daughter in, or I would play jump rope with the other girls and then she would want to jump. (because I'm her mommy!) and after they get going I would ease my way out of it. Sometimes we have to teach our own children how to play and interact.

Good Luck.
I love shy kids!!! They have so much to say just by saying nothing

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

I really don't understand Denise's post about not believing someone posted about selective mutism. It IS a possibility.

At home my dd would talk nonstop but out in public, she did not talk to us if there were others around even some other family members.

My youngest dd (now 7), did not speak with anyone in her 3 year old preschool class and only said two words to the teachers the entire year. The administrator even mentioned to me about the possibility of her having selective mutism but never offered me any assistance with it.

When she was in the 4 year old class, one of the teachers pulled me aside after school was in session for a couple months. She said that something had to be done because my dd was not talking to other kids or to the teachers. She took me to the administrator who pulled out a business card for the city school's early childhood intervention specialist. I really don't know why she didn't offer me that help the previous year.

I had to answer approx. 700 questions and have my dd evaluated. They diagnosed her with selective mutism and an IEP was set up. My dd participated in a communication class through the city schools for 2 1/2 hours once a week for about 3 months. Dd did start to talk to her teachers and her friends. After preschool we would sometimes have playdates with her friends and I had told her that we would not go if she didn't talk to the other kids. She did slowly start talking to them after that. But if she saw an adult look at her, she would stop talking.

By the time my dd was in Kindergarten, she had gotten over not talking to other students and to the teachers. However, she still would not talk to some family members. Her Kindergarten teacher actually did not know about the IEP until I had told her about it during open house (about two weeks after school started). The teacher and I decided that we would keep the IEP in place but not follow it as far as pulling her out of class once a week. We would only follow it if she went back to not talking. We ended up not needing to follow the IEP. By the end of the school year my dd was reading books to the entire class.

At the age of 7, she is still somewhat shy around people that she doesn't know especially if they talk directly to her and ask her a question. But she can also be quite talkative and sometimes silly with other people around as long as they aren't talking directly to her.

Check with your local school system and see if they have any programs in place for early childhood intervention. They should be able to direct you on how to handle your son's shyness.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

OMG! I can't believe you got a post with the words "selective mutism" in it! LOL
My son was very shy in nursery school, pre-K, even somewhat in K. Guess what? Now he's in 2nd grade and QUITE the social butterfly. He's shy. That's OK. Some people are shy. When they're young. maybe forever. Last time I checked, there weren't laws against being shy!
Let the teachers handle it. Encourage him to learn a new friend's name every week. Ask him if he'd like to invite someone over to play for an hour on a Saturday.
He'll be fine.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boca Raton on

You may want to research and inquire about selective mutism (ETA: I'm not suggesting your child has selective mutism - just something to read about/ask about if you think it may apply).

Believe it or not, with my extremely shy (at school but not home) child - the best thing I ever did for him was pull him out of school to homeschool him (in 10th grade). It sounds very counter-intuitive, and I went against the advice of two different professionals. Luckily I had homeschooled my younger child for several years so I knew it could be done very well. The FIRST semester that he homeschooled, my older son appeared in a play in two different speaking parts (I'm talking MANY lines). It truly was amazing. People who knew him from school could not believe it.

The shyness was perplexing for a long time, because he is well-liked by his peers and is a good student and athlete. I honestly could not believe the difference when he began homeschooling. He has opened up so much, and now he is cast in two more plays.

Good luck - what worked for us may or may not work for you. I applaud you for you for working on the issue EARLY. I wish I had done so when my son was much younger.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

You can only do so much to help your child. If it's not in his nature to be outgoing, please don't try to change it. He WILL come out of his shell eventually. But in his own time, not anyone else's. If he is not enjoying gym class or summer camp, ask him if he likes it and if not, does he want to stop? Instead ask him what he does like to do and encourage that. Sports, drawing, writing, playing, etc. When we do things we enjoy and have confidence in, we become less shy (at least while we're doing it).

Have a talk with your child and ask why he is shy at school. What he is afraid of, does he want to make friends or just want to keep to himself? Encourage him to open up to you. That in itself would help him come out of his shell (if he wants and needs to).

Also, here's some practice when he is older. When you go out to eat, have him speak to the waiter. Small things like that. Small short conversations. That helped me.

Also does he have cousins and other relatives his age he can hang out with besides his brother?

Anyway, your child shouldn't feel he must behave in a certain way to be right. If he feels better keeping to himself, that's fine. I was extremely shy. And I had no friends at all as a kid. But this turned out to be an asset later in life. I was very self-reliant and did things by myself. I was also quite choosy with friends when I finally made some.

Don't worry! You're doing fine. Just make sure you have a good talk with him and he isn't bothered or scared by anything.



answers from San Francisco on

Are you and your husband happy even though you are introverts with few friends?

I'm guessing yes, so don't worry about your son. I guess he got your genes. Expose him to things, as you are doing, and he will socialize or not, as he sees fit.


answers from Eugene on

If you have another couple with a child come for a barbeque and then your two families have a trip to the zoo together he will get the idea of how to be social.
Children learn by seeing.
Haben zie andere freunden mit Deutscher sproker zu hause?
If not just get a few couple friends who speak English and have social interactions you son can learn from.



answers from Appleton on

Are there any neighbor kids? Maybe if he has one child over to your home to play with he will learn how to play with them. He may need a structured play time the first couple of times, play a game with the kids for maybe an hour and then offer a snack and see how it goes.
He needs to see how this is done. Start inviting families over for playtime, you get to interact with the parents and he gets to play with the kids.



answers from New York on

My son is also EXTREMELY shy. He is in his 1st year or preschool and literally after 3 months, the teacher told me she was so excited because he spoke to her that day. He mostly communicates through shaking his head yes or no. He has one friend and a few cousins that he is himself with. Otherwise- not a word, to adults and also some family members. Same as your son, he has been in play groups and what not since he was 6 months. I am noticing now that he has loosened up a little at school, but the second he sees me walk in to pick him up- he won't talk to anyone!
My husband was very shy at his age, and just sort of grew out of it. I continue to put him in situations that will allow for him to open up. Also, I lead by example and am very friendly with people and talk to people often so that he knows its ok. I do think its good for them to be some what reserved, then you don't have to worry about them talking to strangers (in a bad way). But it certainly can be frustrating. I feel like my son would have much more fun if he would just open up.



answers from Seattle on

Have you thought about having a few friends that you can have playdates with at home?
He might lighten up a little if he meets the kids on his own turf, where he has the home advantage - which eventually may translate into being more comfortable in other situations.
I definitely understand that it's kind of difficult, we are not social butterflies ourselves... if you don't have friends with kids your sons age, I can recommend trying to connect through Kinderstube. It's a German - American Parent network in the Seattle area and we have found some friends for playdates there before.
Good luck!



answers from Houston on

i kept mine active and he still hasnt come out of his shell and he is 21 i wish i had an answer for you



answers from New York on

1st the gym things he doesn't like much ~forget it. try soccer, or baseball. or cub scouts when he is older, or have a child over to play with. you and hubby need to get to be more outgoing. if you see someone at the park.. just say HI.. smile more.. he will see you making the effort.. it will rub off on him. talk a little louder.. see what other kind of programs are in your town. Ask him if he could pick one kid from his class to come over.. who would it be.. then maybe meet that kid and mom for lunch at a fun place.. or go bowling.. have fun... he will come out of his shell in time..



answers from Sacramento on

Just keep giving him easy opportunities to be successful in social and new situations. Don't go to super busy places where he'll be completely overwhelmed, but other unfamiliar places where he has a chance to experience new situations will help him.

Ask him if there are any kids at school that he likes to play with and then try a playdate at your house. He may just not want to play with the whole group at school, so he just plays near them... but I'll bet there's someone in his class he can form a friendship with. Try playdates at you house first, then at the other person's house, then other places likes parks etc...

Have you been able to connect with any other bilingual families?

Don't push him. He might always be a quiet child, but he will find his way and pushing won't help.

Good luck!

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