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Motivating a shy child

2011

 How can I motivate a shy pre-school child to participate in a group, talk to other children and feel comfortable enough to openly talk to me?
 
Jessica Prins
...

Hello, Jessica.
 
How old is the child ?  This issue has different meaning for a 5 year old than a 2 year old.  How does she show her 'shyness' ?  Does she speak at all ?  If she speaks at home but not in school that could be another issue.  All of this kind of information might affect what kind of approach might be recommended.
 
For now, though, I'd say, "easy does it" and "start small". Try not to make her self-conscious or put her in a spot where she feels she has to speak. As I said, "start small".  What does she like to do ?  What are her favorite play activities ?  Use these to initiate a 'gentle conversation'.  You do the talking (without chattering) and don't act as if you expect a response - while making sure there are openings in case she wants to make one.
 
e.g. " Mary, we got some new play dough today and i was just going to open some.  Why don't you come with me while I do it and you can play with it if you'd like ?  Hold out your hand."
 
If she refuses,  just say something like " Maybe you'd like to do something else right now. But come over if you change your mind".
 
If Mary  comes, after she has started,  you can invite one or two others.
"Cindy, Mary likes our new play dough.  Maybe you'd like to sit here at try it too"  (or some such)
 
Be alert  to clues that she might like some attention from you or to join something ( she's watching an activity intently,  hovering tentatively at the edge, etc. ) Go over to her, ask her if she'd like to join in and hold out your hand.  If she approaches the group you can say something to ease the way like " Mary would like to join the water play. Can you move over just a tad, John ? Perhaps you could show her how to pour water down the funnel" (or some such).
 
If there's imaginative play going on (if the children are old enough for it)  and you can see the players need somebody to fill a role,  you might say, "Maybe Mary could be the nurse, or baby, or mother", or whatever.  But make sure it's a role with which she would feel comfortable so a rejection from the others does not occur.
 
Make sure circle times don't put her on the spot, with those 'go around the circle and each child says something' kind of thing.  At least if you have to do it, if Mary doesn't respond, say, "Mary's still thinking about it" or some such and pass quickly on to the next.  If you sense she's feeling comfortable with you, you can inconspicuously have her sit next to or near you at such group times. After a while, you might encourage play with just one or two other children.
 
In other words, accept her feelings of shyness, engage her in 'conversations' without expecting a response,  avoid putting her on the spot to respond in front of a larger group,  encourage her to relate to one other child through a common activitiy interest first, then find opportunities to include her in small groups by helping her with the entree into it.
 
All of the staff can work to be sure that the climate and values of the program make all children feel comfortable and safe, ensure that rejection and preschool style bullying do not occur (or are responded to if they do), (that's a whole other story) and the like.
 
I'll be interested in how this goes.
 
Karen VanderVen
...
 
I don't think it's about motivation, I think it's having patience and building the relationship with the child. They'll come out of their shell when they're ready and when they trust you. The simple fact is, if they are shy, they may never talk "openly." What is your motivation for needing them to participate in these activities? Is this in a preschool? Judging by the age of the child, try playing with them while you're talking.
 
Jillian Viens
...
 
Oh the sweet shy...
 
Bringing me back to my ECE days.  My suggestions.  Find his/her likes.  Do some cool activities, playdough, goop (cornstarch and water), painting, where you can generate general conversation.  Finding a common ground is always helpful, and if it is coming across more as a "get to know you", free play, it's easier for them to open up, and not feel like there is an agenda. Ask simple questions so you do get to know them, what makes them tick, their interests, and that can open up their little world to you so you know what the next step can be.
 
As far as interacting with others, help them get involved, you take the lead to engage with the other children and then you can invite him or her...also finding an the activity they too would want to also participate in. Or give them a little trick up their sleeve to "woo" the other kids, providing a feel good moment for him/her to feel good and confident about the interaction.  Always staying close, allow them to take lead if they are up for it, but if getting nervous again, you're close by to help again with the interaction, providing praise, encouragement, and ALWAYS acknowledge the effort.  But allow space between the two of you so he/she doesn't look like you are there for him/her, vs, you're there to help with everyone.
 
Because of the shyness, I think it is SO important not to push him or her into anything.  Work on the relationship between the two of you, so he/she will see you are a safe place, and then that can help build confidence for them to take the leap.  This can take  a lot of time, but it will so be worth it in the long run...allow them TIME!
 
Let me know how it goes, or if I can help in anyway.
 
Good luck!
 
Tina
 
"All children are gifted...some take more time to unwrap."
...
 
Hi Jessica
 
I think at this stage children have serious trust issues so it your job to get the child to trust you. I suggest trying to engage the child in activities such as games and art that they would enjoy. While doing this observe what the child mostly enjoys as I believe that this is an important step in getting to know a child so you know how to capture their attention.

Once you have this knowledge you know how to get the child's attention. The next step is presence. If you are constantly around, it is easy for a child of that age to get used to you and begin to want to associate more with you.

Once you are at this stage it is important that you keep the child's trust, so you must avoid making any promises you may not be able to keep or hurting the child through hurtful speech or action. From there I think you will know your child so well that you will know whatever should come next in your relationship.
 
I hope this has been helpful.
 
Joanna Moyo
...

As Carl Whitaker used to say, "Go slow to get going". 
 
Try getting on the child's level and validating all the youth's behavior, including their good decision to not participate until they know it is safe and a good idea. 
 
Just a thought.
 
Jack Nowicki
...
 
Hi Jessica,
 
In order for a shy child to have success in overcoming their shyness it is helpful to be aware of the underlying factors that motivate the shyness - typically, low self esteem and lack of self-confidence often underly the shyness. Having said this, one should address these issues  at a pace that fits for the child.  Expecting a shy child to join a group or open up to you may not be a realistic expectation for this child right now.  Begin where the child is; start slow, build in opportunities for her to build self-esteem and confidence on an individual basis first.  As her confidence grows she will be more inclined to join groups.  It is also helpful to demonstrate acceptance and patience in your work with her, as shy children typically experience other's frustration of her.  Good luck.
 
Donicka Budd
...
 
Having been a shy child myself and a person who still struggles to push myself beyond my introverted boundaries, as well as having dealt with many other shy children at summer camps and various other settings, my best suggestion is to show patience and support.  It often takes a lot of time for a shy child to begin to emerge from their shell, and takes even more confidence to feel comfortable interacting with other children.  A lot of time I would sit nearby or even play alongside but separately from them, occasionally asking them questions - gauging the amount of conversation on their responses and interactions.  Once the child develops a trust/bond with you, then you can help them to begin to interact with other children.  This phase generally requires more guidance from you, as a shy child will quickly feel overwhelmed and will want to retreat.  It is best, if possible, to start with other one-on-one interactions with children who tend to be calm.

I always found art projects (or whatever else interests the shy child) were a great way to show them they have something in common with other children. As the shy child gains more confidence in socializing skills they can begin to be part of larger groups or interacting with more boisterous children.

And last, but not least, you need the parents help by finding opportunities (outside of pre-school) to socialize their child.  I realize this isn't always possible but it would definitely help.
 
Richelle,
Canada
...
 
I would suggest that you first start small so that you don't overwhelm the child. Maybe if you do activities that require groups of 2 or 3 so that the child would then have to interact with his/her partner to have fun or to complete an activity. This I think will allow the child to open up, interact and feel comfortable.
 
Aisha Lawal
...
 
Hi, not sure if this thread still open, but first is trust - between you and the child, and this takes time and lots of gentleness and consistency, moving at the child's pace with some gentle support and encouragement. 
 
Regarding playing with others - check what level the child is at first - he/she may be watching and playing parallel to others, or may be very content in playing alone or alongside. Really getting to know them, watching for tiny cues and picking up on those when they want to join in with others.
 
As for group participation, you may have a principle that when group activities are happening that each child has to take part, but if this child is not yet ready for that have a safe place nearby where they can observe and perhaps engage in something quiet themselves like looking at books. Gradually as trust comes both trusting you and the other children then these things will happen.
 
This child may have a natural disposition to observe and play independently, so it is good to learn that and honour it.
 
Read about the theme of Identity and Belonging, also theme of Well being and the one on Communication in our [Irish] National early years curriculum in Aistear [irish for journey] http://www.curriculumonline.ie/en/ 
 
Imelda Graham
Dublin
...

I would like to recommend The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron.
 
"A highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything. This makes them quick to grasp subtle changes, prefer to reflect deeply before acting, and generally behave conscientiously. They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others. Because children are a blend of a number of temperament traits, some highly sensitive children are fairly difficult -- active, emotionally intense, demanding, and persistent -- while others are calm, turned inward, and almost too easy to raise except when they are expected to join a group of children they do not know. But outspoken and fussy or reserved and obedient, all highly sensitive children are sensitive to their emotional and physical environment."
 
This is a great book for all youth workers.
 
Barry Smith
Newfoundland
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