Learn 5 ways to help shy kids gain the confidence to try something new.
Remember the kid at soccer practice or dance class who would hide behind their mother until she pried herself out of their grip and pushed them out with other kids?
How about the kid at the party who would sit quietly, not participating in any of the games, until they were forced to join in?
Let me take a minute to introduce myself. Hello, that kid was me.
Or, if it wasn’t literally me at your soccer practices and kid parties, it was some similar shy kid who felt worried about being judged and embarrassed for no legitimate reason.
Years later, as I am raising three children of my own, I have been noticing traces of those shy-kid genes popping up.
I secretly prayed that my kids would get the outgoing, class-clown genes that my husband possessed; however, those socially hesitant, unsure chromosomes proved to be dominant.
Fear of Joining In
You’ve probably heard the term FOMO (fear of missing out). Shy children seem to have the opposite issue – FOJI (fear of joining in).
Like I mentioned above, I had a case of FOJI as a kid. I had very supportive parents, close sisters, and great friends, but I still hated trying new things.
I had an irrational fear that I would screw up at whatever I was doing and people would laugh at me. I remember being at a graduation party and wanting to join in on a volleyball game. I repeatedly got up and walked over to the court, and then convinced myself that I wasn’t good and people would be mad if I ruined the game.
When I got a little older, I was fed up with missing out on opportunities. I told myself that it wasn’t worth missing out on things simply because of this silly fear of failing.
That internal intervention I had was a defining moment, and I want my kids to have the chance to come to that realization much earlier than I did.
5 Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Try Something New
If your child avoids opportunities to try new activities or meet new people, you can help encourage them to move past their fear with these 5 simple steps.
1) Get Their Wheels Turning
You can try to tell them that trying new things is good for them; however, it won’t be as efficient as them coming to this realization on their own.
Help guide them to work through this by asking them these questions:
- How long do you think it takes before people are good at something?
- Are some people naturally good at certain things?
- Name something that you would like to try but have been too scared.
- What is something that you gave up on?
- If you gave up or lost at something, is it too late to try again?
These questions will help them understand that everyone has different abilities, and that trying again is usually an option.
You may also like: 5 Questions to Ask Your Kids That Make Them Feel Valued
2) Take Baby Steps
You may feel the urge to launch your kid onto the baseball field and sprint in the other direction. Keep in mind that taking is slow can be a helpful tactic.
When my youngest was a little unsure about soccer practice, we had his brother walk out with him for the first lesson. He quickly felt comfortable.
Think about how you can ease your kid into their new activity or environment. Could you sit with them, bring a friend or sibling, or
In the book Growing up Brave, Author/Psychologist Dr. Donna Pincus describes this as the “bravery ladder”, and suggests tackling stressful situations in small steps. These small achievements create a momentum of confidence.
3) Encourage Friendships
Personally, I have found that friendships help kids open up to the world around them.
Friends can help your shy child get silly and lighten up. A simple “come join us”, from a friend can empower your child to find confidence to try something new.
As a parent, you can encourage strong friendships by:
- Inviting your kid’s friend over to hang out
- Talking to your kid about the importance of friendship
- Encouraging them to be brave enough to talk to other kids
- Sign your kid up for activities that their friends are in
4) Help Them Develop Grit
Is your kid afraid of failing?
Whether it be at a sport, activity, or even in a social setting, try to see loss and failure as a small opportunity. Losing teaches kids the value of hard-work, and that things don’t always go their way.
You can raise resilient kids by doing these simple things in this post here: Raising Emotionally Unstoppable Kids.
5) Know When to Back Off
If new activities and situations are causing your kid extreme stress or anxiety, consider backing off for a while.
According to Kids Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), signs of anxiety in children include:
- Clinging, missing school
- Frequently crying
- Acting scared or upset
- Refusing to talk or do things
- They might feel shaky, jittery, or short of breath
- They may feel “butterflies” in their stomach, a hot face, clammy hands, dry mouth, or a racing heart
If your child is showing these signs of anxiety, talk to your pediatrician.
Related: 5 Times I Missed my Kid’s Anxiety
Final Thoughts on Helping Shy Kids
If your kid suffers from FOJI (fear of joining in), you can actively help them gain confidence and try something new.
Once they learn that there is nothing to be afraid of, they will be cured of their FOJI and be prepared for a lifetime of new experiences.
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