Getting children to break out of their comfort zone and potentially form new friendships can be particularly challenging. However, this is especially true when they are quiet, shy, and introverted. Many parents and other adults have difficulty understanding and addressing what I’ll call the “Shy Kid Syndrome.” That is when your child does not take initiative to connect with other children his or her age and makes little or no effort to test out unfamiliar situations. This is especially damaging for Pre-teens, Tweens, and Teens because forming peer relationships is a crucial milestone for this developmental period in a child’s life. Those with successful peer relationships have more confidence, higher self-esteem, a better body image, and perform better academically than their shy counterparts.
So what can we do as adults to help them become healthy, confident kids? Do not let them spend their summers in the house playing video games, watching TV, or on their iPhone. Instead, make it a priority to get them involved in summer camps, which are especially designed to help kids build self-confidence, develop new relationships, and stay physically and/or intellectually active. So how do you “strongly encourage” your shy 9 year-old to step out of her protective cocoon and try something new?
Start by talking to your child about summer activities at least a month or two in advance. Also, if possible, start involving them as early as about 5-6 years-old. It is important to give your child the ability to brainstorm ideas for summer activities with you instead of forcing him to go to a camp where he may not feel comfortable. It is crucial that you grant him the opportunity to express his feelings openly with you. Sometimes, kids develop low self-esteem and confidence simply because they weren’t able to feel heard. Once several ideas have been discussed and presented give your child the option to pick from a few different ones. Once he has decided praise him for taking initiative and being willing to try something new.
If he still struggles making the decision or refuses to choose tell him that you will have to make the decision for him if he can’t decide on his own. Again, encourage him to make a choice without your input as that shows maturity and initiative. If you have to attend the first day with your child as additional coaxing that may work but only as a last resort effort to model that the environment is safe. Most importantly, stay calm and relaxed when you discuss it and don’t force the issue!