"I have a 7-year old son who is so shy he will hardly talk to anyone outside of our family. How can I help him?"A.
Some children are naturally slower than others to warm to people. Still, they can usually learn to overcome their fears and become less anxious. You have to take one step at a time, starting from where they are, and building on each success.
Look for things he likes to do and is good at. This will build self- confidence. He will also have more things to talk about. If you can find things for him to do, involving others, better still. Don't force him to do anything, but also don't make it easy for him to get out of it. A lot of time children will say they don't want to do something, even when they know inside that they'll have a great time.
Set up some social activities for him that will also turn out to be learning experiences. Start with something easy and work up from there. An example might be a movie "date" with a friend. They can have fun sharing a common experience, yet don't even have to talk.
Structure some activities for him that involve a few other people. Each time he gains a little confidence, plan another that is slightly more difficult. Plan these events knowing that he will do well, and then stop while it's still fun. This will make everyone want to do it again.
Make the social situations revolve around things he likes to do. For example if he enjoys computer games, invite a friend over. Start with one and the next time invite two or three. The kids will like talking about and playing the games together.
When you visit adults, you can lead the conversation by telling of your son's latest exploits on his computer game. Allow him to correct you on details, or to fill in on the intricacies of beating the Bad Boss on level 4. You could prime the adults with suggestions about what to talk about.
If he doesn't respond, don't force him and don't make excuses for him. It is his decision to talk or not. He will have to live with the consequences. It will be easier on him if you try to draw him into conversations. You might ask him a specific, open-ended question about the game. It might be something like: "How did Mario get lost in the Mansion in the first place?" Don't put him on the spot by asking a yes or no question and don't talk about difficult things or subjects he doesn't like.
Gradually, your son will develop confidence in talking and being with people. He will then be able to take more risks by talking about less familiar subjects. In short - if talking becomes fun, he will do more of it. It it is difficult or embarrassing he will do less.
Don't ever call him "shy". It will just reinforce his own belief about himself, and never change. It could even become an excuse as to why he can't do things. Focus on his strong qualities such as gentleness, kindness, and being polite.
Just remain positive and affirming and he should be fine.
By Noel Swanson
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