Socially Withdrawn or Anxious Children


Social withdrawal is fear of, or withdrawal from, people or social situations.  Shyness becomes a problem when it interferes with relationships with others, in social situations, or other aspects of a child's life.  Below are suggestions for children who are socially anxious, while parents should contact a licensed professional for more specific anxiety problems.


Helping Your Child Cope with Being Overly Shy

Pre-K/ Elementary  

1.   Develop your child’s social skills

§  Sometimes a child is shy when around a group of their peers because they are not really sure what they are supposed to be doing. They may feel too overwhelmed or that they have nothing to say to the other children. To help your child, get them  involved in play groups and facilitate their play with others by going with  them to introduce themselves, or joining in on the activity.  You can learn together

2.   Make sure to talk to your child and find out the reason they don't want to play with the other children.  The solution may be discovered here.

3.   Allow your child to warm up to a situation and don’t push them too hard.

§ All parents want their child to be accepted and have friends.  A lot of parents have the expectation that their child is going to be outgoing and the center of attention. Most children are not like this.  For children who are shy, its takes them a while just to get up the courage to attempt to join a group. Let them go at their own pace with your support and encouragement.  Pushing your child to join may lead to crying, humiliation, and resentment towards you.

4.   Model and praise outgoing behavior (Zolten and Long, 1997)

§  Your child will have a much easier time being outgoing and forward in social situations if you, the parent, model good social behavior.  For example, when you are out with your child, make an effort to be friendly and outgoing, this will let your child see that it is okay to talk with others.  Also, any time your child exhibits socially appropriate behavior, praise them and let them know you are proud of them.  Make sure to state exactly why you are proud of them.. By doing this, they will know what to do in the future.  For example, say “Sue you did a great job saying hi to Mr. Smith.  That was a very friendly thing to do!”

5.   Do not speak for your child

§  It is very tempting, when someone approaches your child as asks his/her name or comments on her outfit, etc. to speak for your child.  By speaking for your child, it lets your child off the hook and they "get away with" not speaking. In addition, it sends the message to your child that their voice isn’t necessary, which can reinforce your child’s shyness.  Therefore, try to your child speak for themselves.

6.   Teach positive self talk

§  Often times, children who are shy have a negative self image or are insecure.  To help them overcome these feelings, teach them positive self-talk.  Have your child list the things he can do, what he is good at, what he likes, and friends and family that love him.  Have him practice saying all of this to himself.  Keep the list posted (maybe in the bathroom or his bedroom), this way he is reminded of all his good qualities and when he is feeling shy or insecure.

7.               Never let yourself or others (teachers included) label your child as shy

§  There is a lot of negativity surrounding the word “shy” and the more your child hears himself associated with that word, the lower his self image could become.  This could result in him/her become more shy.

8.                Send safe messages

§  Be careful that you don’t give your child react or even subtle messages that enforce their fears.  For example, don’t tell your shy child to “be careful” or “call if you need anything” unless it is necessary.  Let your child know that you think they world is naturally safe.


1.   Give your child a break

§  This is a very hard time for children both physically and emotionally.  They are dealing with body changes as well as hormonal changes.   Children can become awkward and insecure at this stage as they strive to find their own identity.  Be sensitive to their needs and offer them support.  Shyness may just be their way of dealing with all this new stuff in their lives.

2.   Help your child discover their hidden talents

§  Not all kids can play baseball or a musical instrument.  However, adolescence is a great time to discover new things about your teen and help them discover their talents.  Whether it’s having a special touch with young children, writing poetry, or even algebra, help your child to expand these talents and in the mean time possibly find a group of peers that are also interested in the same things.  Finding a special gift or a special peer group may be just what your child needs to come out of his/her shell.

3.   Facilitate your child’s independence

§  Adolescence is a time when children want to independent.  It is often this independence and “I can do it myself” attitude that helps children develop their self esteem and confidence.  Facilitate this need for independence by allowing your child more responsibility for his/her life.  Teach them how to do laundry, cook some special dishes, or even go to the grocery store for a few items you may need.  Of course the amount of responsibility you give them is dependent upon their level of trustworthiness.  However, if you give your teen some control, you are essentially say8ing, “I trust you”, and nothing builds a child’s esteem more than that. 

4.   Provide your child with information

§  Sometimes the most effective tool for getting through to your teen is by not using words at all.  Do your research.  Find information in magazines and on the internet on ways to overcome shyness and making friends.  Leave it in a place you know your child will look, without it being completely obvious (kitchen table, by the computer, on the coffee table).  Out of curiosity or boredom, your child may just flip through the information and find something helpful.  


Helpful Resources


Shake Your Shyness

Shy Kids




Pre K/ Elementary


Let’s Talk About Being Shy (1998)   

By :Marianne Johnson  


Little Miss Shy (1998) 

By: Roger Hargraves

Blushful Hippopotamus (1996)

By: Chris Raschk

Wilson Sat Alone (1994)

By: Debra Hess and Diane Greenseid





The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens:  The Ultimate Teenage  Success Guide (2001)

By: Sean Covey                      

Shyness: A Bold New Approach:  The Latest Scientific Findings Plus Practical Steps for FindingYour Comfort Zone (2000)

By: Bernado J. Carducci PhD and Susan Golant


Girl Power:  Making Choices and Taking Control (1994)

By: Patty Ellis

The Me Nobody Knew: A Story of Triumph for All Girls (1998)

By: Shannon McLinden 




The Shy Child :  A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Overcoming Shyness from Infancy to Adulthood (1999)

By: Phillip Zimbardo and  Shirley Radl


The Shy Child:  Helping Children Triumph over Shyness (2000) 

By: Ward K.  Swallow


The Shyness Breakthrough (2003)

By: Bernardo Carducci


Special Acknowledgement for Information Used on this Site


Kristen Zolten, M.A. and Nicholas Long, PhD, Department of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.  Center for Effective Parenting.  1997.



Dr. Jeremy Jewell