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How to Warm Up a Shy Toddler

How to Warm Up a Shy Toddler

It is perfectly natural if our shy toddler just wants to watch for a while, but sometimes we feel they are missing out.

Ali Smith-Poe, mom to twins, gives us some advice about helping a shy toddler.

We all have different temperaments, and we understand that all of our interactions with the world are affected by them. But without as many obvious outward signs,  it can be easy to forget that this is equally true for our children.  We like to think that our children’s behavior is an absolute reflection of how we are parenting them, but as much as this can play a part, they are unique individuals, and we are not the ones who decide whether they will be shy or gregarious.

There may be no such thing as a “good” or “bad” temperament, but there are certainly a good many of variations.

I have twins and they have two distinctly different temperaments. Annabel is extremely social. As soon as she could crawl, she would climb into the lap of anyone sitting on the floor and snuggle. Her twin sister, however, is entirely different.

When we enter any space with more than a few people, Elsinore will physically hide behind my leg. Despite this behavior, I wouldn’t categorize her as shy. Instead, I would say she is cautious or “slow to warm up.” Once she has warmed up – watch out! But until then, she will stand on the sidelines, hiding her face, and refusing to speak to anyone.

Of course, it is much easier to go into a public place, a class, or a party with Annabel, but I know that the experience can be just as rewarding for Elsinore, so I try my best to ease her into these situations.  Here are a few things I do with Elsinore to help her warm up:

  • Prepare her in advance by talking about what to expect.
  • If there is anyone she knows in the room, point them out to her and ask if she wants to go say, “Hi.’
  • If anyone tries to engage her and she’s not ready, I say, “Elsinore is feeling shy right now. Maybe we can say hi later?”
  • Stay with her on the sidelines. Walking away from her makes her feel anxious, which is why she is on the sidelines in the first place.
  • Make time for her to warm up. If I have to drop her off somewhere, I account for the time it will take for her get comfortable.

What is referred to as shyness in toddlers is often the result of a cautious temperament. Taking a few steps to help them feel safe and comfortable in new places, with new people, and during transitions, will make things easier for everyone involved.

On a related note, for those of us who worry about our “shy” children not speaking as early as some others, there have been some studies that show that they are developing language just as well as everyone else. They have comparable levels of comprehension, they are just cautious about verbalizing.  Here is an interesting article about it.

We wrote about anxious older kids back in 2014. See the post here.



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