We all have different personalities, and so do children. Some little ones are the life and soul of the party, delighted to meet new people and get right into playing and talking. Others are quieter, prefer their own company, or that of a few folk at a time that they really know.
There is nothing wrong with this. But we do want to help quieter children to manage social situations and play without too much worry and stress.
Trying one, or more, of the following strategies might help your toddler feel more comfortable:
Work with your child’s temperament
- Don’t push them to behave in ways they are uncomfortable with
- Avoid labelling your little one as ‘shy’ or ‘anxious’
- Always talk positively about your child and to your child
- Never force your child to talk but always give an opportunity to talk, eg ‘would you like to tell Jenny what we did last night?’ If your child doesn’t give an answer, move on without making a big deal of it ‘oh well, never mind, maybe you can tell her later’.
Help them understand what will happen
- Role play social situations in advance with dolls or teddies
- Have a predictable routine for potentially stressful situations. For example, for dropping off at childminders/nursery. Explain simply what will happen; make sure this is what does happen
- keep explanations simple and talk to your child about issues beforehand. Remember that when children are anxious, they need simpler language and lots of repetition
- making a simple sequence of pictures to tell the story of what will happen may help some children
- Give opportunities for ‘play dates’ in safe familiar environments
- playing with your child and their friend(s) can be helpful so you can model what to do – how to share, or what happens if you “lose” a game
- Allowing a child to choose a toy to take with them to a new place might help. Most nurseries and childminders should be fine with this if you discuss it first
- Try and see if there are aspects of the situation your child finds stressful, and adapt those. For example, if it is the noise levels at nursery drop off, ask if you can arrive 5 minutes earlier or later
- keep things short – to the length that you know your child can manage, and gradually extend