Help Your Shy Child Make Friends

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 25, 2021
4 min read

It's completely normal for children or adults to be shy. As a parent, you might notice your child feels and acts afraid or tense when socially interacting with unfamiliar people. These reactions are typical with a shy child. It's important to know that shyness is not a medical condition, and children might overcome shyness on their own. You might help your child overcome shyness by helping them make friends. Here's what you need to know.

If your child is shy, they might start showing some or all of the following physical signs:

  • Trembling
  • Fast heart rate 
  • Stomach ache or rumbling
  • Blushing
  • Sweating ‌

Your child may also develop some of the following behavioral signs: 

  • Getting nervous
  • Avoiding social interactions 
  • Getting overly self-conscious (they worry too much about what others think of them)
  • Showing feelings of low self-esteem‌

It's easy to mistake shyness for social anxiety. Some of their symptoms might be the same, but the two are different issues. Shyness is just a personality issue, while anxiety is a mental disorder. 

Your child might develop shyness due to the following reasons:

  • Genetics. Your child might inherit personality traits through genetic transfer. A child may get some of their shy characteristics from one of their parents.  
  • Fear of failure. It's typical for parents to want their children to be good performers. If you are this kind of parent, consider not pushing your child so hard to meet your expectations. The fear of not meeting those expectations may present itself as shyness.  
  • Lack of social interaction. Social skills develop at a young age. Children who have grown up in isolation away from their peers tend to become shy. The shy behavior is due to underdeveloped social skills, which may affect their interaction with unfamiliar people.
  • Personality. Children who are emotionally sensitive and get easily intimidated by others might become shy. They might prefer to spend most of their time alone rather than in social circles.
  • Family relationships. If you are an overprotective parent, your child might develop shy characteristics. Overprotective parents limit the child's sense of curiosity and adventure. Likewise, if your child does not get the consistent and tender care of a parent, they may get anxious and develop shy behavior. The behavior might start because they don't feel securely attached to their parents.
  • Harsh criticism. Extreme criticism of your child might be a cause of their shyness. It can have the same effect as when they get bullied.
  • Learned behavior. In most cases, the first learning a child does is through imitation. They might become shy if they learn by example from their parents. Shy parents might teach their children to become shy too.

These tips might help you help your shy child to make friends and overcome shyness. They include:

  1. Teach your child social skills. Your child is better off learning how to engage with peers from a young age. Social skills are not only important in making friends but also in maintaining these friendships.   
  2. Get them involved. Encourage your child to join sports or any school activity that their peers are engaging in. Explain to them that this is how most friendships start — with people that have similar interests.
  3. Set friendship goals. Motivate your child to accomplish reasonable goals. For example, you might set a goal for them to talk to the child they want to be friends with. Make sure it's something that they can realistically do. If they accomplish the goal, be proud of them for the achievement.
  4. Playdates. Playdates may sound like too much work for you because you're increasing the number of children to look after in your house. However, playdates in your home might help your child learn how to make friends. Playdates improve your child's social skills by teaching them to consider the other person's emotions. Consider hosting playdates at your own home, where your child is most comfortable.   
  5. Roleplay. Roleplaying social situations with your child might go a long way in helping your child manage their shyness and learn how to make friends. This is helpful even in cases where they don't know how to act.  
  6. Teach them empathy.  Empathy will help your child to focus on others rather than themselves. When your child learns how to consider other people's feelings, thoughts, and experiences, their peers will feel more connected to them. Your child might make good friends by showing genuine interest in them rather than trying to be interesting themselves.   
  7. Meet their teachers. Teachers might have a clearer understanding of how your child behaves in school and have better suggestions and strategies for improving their social skills.
  8. Motivate them. When your child faces an unfamiliar situation or new interaction bravely, praise their efforts in managing the situation. Building their self-confidence will encourage them to be less shy when making friends. 
  9. Avoid calling them shy. Try not to label your child as shy. Your child may adopt this way of thinking, and it might encourage them to continue acting shy. In situations where other people might label your child as shy, try to downplay it. You may suggest instead that your child just takes time to warm up to people. If in a school setting, the teacher might use this information to guide other kids to be patient with your shy child.
  10. Explain why friends are important. Making friends is essential. Forming meaningful relationships can help your child be happier and improve their life. Encourage your child by advocating for the positive side of being social. You may use your own real-life examples.

If you think the severity of your child's shyness is interfering with their health, you might consider seeking professional psychological help.