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8 Tips for Helping Shy Kids Make Friends

10/01/2014 11:25am ET | Updated December 1, 2014
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My son is a very shy child. He had one friend at school who was his best buddy last year (in first grade), but that boy moved away. My little guy is too shy to reach out to his classmates so he is often alone, and he is starting to pretend he's sick to avoid going to school because he says he misses me all day.

Many children, particularly ones leaning toward introversion, have a hard time initiating new friendships. Here are some thoughts about your little boy's situation:

Avoid labeling your child. "He's our shy one." "She's our little beauty." "He's the firecracker in the family." Labels often define who we are and who we believe we can become. Describe behavior without imposing a limiting label on your little boy that may end up following him around throughout his life. Validate his feelings by saying something like, "It looks like you're feeling a little uneasy around all those kids" rather than, "Of course you don't like being at birthday parties--you're shy!"

Don't push him to be who he isn't. While labeling a child is detrimental, it is also harmful to insist that he be someone he isn't. Your son may be a lively comedian at home where he is at ease, but withdrawn when he's out in public. How he behaves will vary, depending on how comfortable and relaxed he is feeling.

Help your son build his confidence. Look for small, intimate settings where he can practice his social skills in a more manageable situation, like an art class or library program. Many less outgoing kids have an easier time approaching other children when they don't feel overwhelmed by the noise and chaos of the classroom.

Encourage your child to identify three classmates he thinks might be fun to play with. Then see if you can arrange an after school trip to the park or ice cream shop to see if they make a connection.

Talk with the teacher. She may assign "study buddies" to her students so they can occasionally work on assignments together. This can be an easier, more natural way for children to get to know each other, one on one.

Celebrate him. When children feel seen, cherished and valued just as they are, their self-confidence naturally rises. What does he love to do, outside of the school setting? Help him develop a strong internal sense of self by providing him with opportunities to manifest his unique gifts and qualities, whether caring for animals, mastering karate moves, or concocting tasty desserts.

Ask the teacher to give your son some responsibility in the classroom. Some less outgoing kids bloom when they feel special or important. Perhaps your son can be the designated hamster feeder, or the one who takes notes to the office. He may feel less like an outsider looking in, wistfully longing for home and mommy if he feels more integrated into the class as a valued member.

Don't interview your little boy for the negative. When you pick your son up from school, avoid asking him questions like, "Did you sit alone at lunch again, honey", or "Did you stay in the classroom again at recess?" While he needs to be able to tell you the truth if he's had a hard day, he will be watching you for indications that you anticipate every day is going to be awful.

Every child has a unique temperament. Some are fiery and extroverted, others are more sensitive and introverted, and most move between these extremes, depending on where they are and who they're with. Hopefully these tips will help your little guy navigate the initial awkwardness of getting to know someone, and he'll have a new best buddy again!

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

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