Development FAQ: 24+ months – The Social Toddler

My daughter is three years and eight months. She is very shy and hides behind my legs even if we meet someone we know in the street. I try to get her to speak to them but she refuses. I feel really angry and ashamed when she does this and a really bad mother. Why can’t she be like other children her age? Have I done something wrong and if so how can I help her now?

First of all let me reassure you that you have done nothing wrong and you are not a bad parent. Your anger and shame are understandable because it is normal to want our children to behave in an appropriate manner. However your shy child is unable to see things from your point of view. When she feels that she is the centre of attention she will hide behind you. Some Psychologists believe that there is a possibility that shyness is caused by a combination of factors which include genetics and personality. Other suggested causes are learned behaviour from perhaps a shy or overprotective parent, being bullied by siblings or fear of failure and because of their shyness may have reduced self-esteem.

Whatever the reason there are several things you can do and the following suggestions may help but how successful they are will also depend on your daughter’s personality:

  • It is important to avoid labelling your daughter as shy because labels tend to stick and make children feel less positive about them-selves.
  • Try to prevent other people calling her shy either.
  • When she is displaying shy behaviour support her by acknowledging her feelings instead of trying to cajole her out of it.
  • Tell her stories about times when you have felt shy and what you did that helped during these times. Telling children about our experiences helps them to feel better and helps to reduce their anxiety.
  • Try to be confident and outgoing. Children learn from the behaviour of their parents and model that behaviour.
  • Coping strategies can be worked at with your daughter by role playing situations, but make them interesting and fun.
  • Discussing situations with your daughter before the event as if you are talking to yourself – saying where you are going, what you are going to do, what you expect it to be like and how you will behave when you get there. Have a chat about how it went when you come home discussing together how both of you felt it went.
  • Notice when your daughter smiles or says hello to another child and praise her for small improvements.
  • Notice the things your child does well and encourage them with praise and support.
  • Invite some friends she would like to be friends with to your house to play.