Is My 5-Year-Old Too Shy?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have a 5 year old daughter who is extremely shy! She attended Pre-K last year and is currently in Kindergarten at the same school. She’s always been the type of child to take longer to warm up to situations and does not initiate with other kids on her own. However, I never tended to worry much about it and decided to just give her time to feel more comfortable, as she had just started school. However, this school year, the behaviors are still the same. At first, she was so shy, that she did not even speak in school (to peers or teacher). I immediately started working very closely with the teacher on getting her to feel more comfortable and together came up with some ideas (ex. brought in her pet gerbil to share) and these things actually worked and she began to talk more in class (at first in a whisper and then in a normal tone). I was so excited about her progress with the talking, but that initial progress kind of regressed a bit.

What I am most concerned about though, is that she will not initiate with peers. I watch her in the playground when I pick her up and she is completely by herself, walking around and not interacting with any of the kids. When I ask her why she doesn’t play, she says its because she’s shy. My concern is that she has internalized this label based on her experiences and what she hears others call her and I am trying to help her overcome that. So just recently I started a behavior chart with her where she earns a sticker for each day she plays with the kids (even if she doesn’t talk to them), but it’s kind of inconsistent at this point. She did it a few times, and felt very proud of herself! That day, she did not even want to go home!

At that point, I made sure to help her make a connection with how fun it was to play with others. However, those good days have been rare and lately I have also seen her behavior changing a bit at home. In my opinion, she is a very intuitive little girl and is very aware of her social difficulties/anxiety. Lately, when I bring up talking about her friends at school and if she played with them, she will cover her ears and says she does not want to talk about it and that she’s just shy, shy, shy!! She has also recently said to me that she was sad because of school and the fact that she doesn’t have any friends.

OF course my heart breaks for her and I only want to step in and do whatever it takes to have all this go away! But I sometimes wonder if her sudden change in behavior may be because I am putting too much pressure on her to speak and be more social. I need some advice on whether I am doing the right thing or if I should step back a bit and just let her get comfortable at her own pace. I was planning to do more activities that expose to more social situations like play dates, going to the park, etc. Which I’m sure would all help! But I’m not sure if we are dealing with a more serious anxiety problem that requires formal treatment. What is your opinion on that, give it more time or find a professional? Sorry about such a long message and thank you so much for your professional opinion. I truly appreciate it as a I desperate to help my child become more social.

A: You are asking excellent questions. I think you can do both — see a professional and get some good advice about how much you should intervene and what timing would be most helpful. As a parent, it’s very difficult to know if your child is within the range of normal behavior. How could you? You don’t have the experience of seeing a hundred or more kids with some of the same challenges. That’s what a professional can bring to the situation. Kids do have different temperaments and talents and also have their own individual timeframes in which to grow. Being different from the average doesn’t necessarily mean that there is somehing wrong but it’s wise to check it out.

It sounds to me like you are doing everything you know how to do to be helpful. You are correct to be concerned that your child is picking up your worry. It’s possible a child or family therapist will help relieve some of your anxiety and will give you some new ways to help your sensitve and intuitive little girl.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Photo

 

 

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Nov 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Is My 5-Year-Old Too Shy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/11/21/is-my-5-year-old-too-shy/