Do you have a toddler or preschooler – who you KNOW is not shy – seem at a loss in different social situations? Here’s how to help.
I am telling you. Half the time parents don’t take their kids places because they think – or know – their kids will throw down. They think it won’t be worth it, it won’t be fun, and it’s easier to just stay at home. Or perhaps they’re dying to get out because they don’t want to be a stay at home mom who never leaves the house, but their kids just don’t seem to handle new places, new people or new settings.
This is more common than you’d image.
Pre-motherhood we probably thought all kids were like the ones from movies and TV who were funny, cute, well behaved except for some mischievous behavior. But even that seems cute on TV. Instead we give birth to children who want to hide between our legs, stand beside us at parties, or who seem to skirt the edge of the fun but don’t enter in.
I’ve been there.
My daughter, now 4, spend her first 3 years acting shy, even though I knew she wasn’t. She acted standoffish. I actually really agonized over this (Type A women agonize) for a while until I started to do things a bit differently with her. Well, that and she grew up. Now I’m using those tactics on my son who actually is more reserved than her in the first place.
I’m no expert, but here’s what I’m doing to help my kids feel and act more comfortable in new situations. Particularly new social situations.
1. Explain what’ll happen.
I’ve gotten to the point now that anytime we are going somewhere, particularly if it’s new, I explain what will happen. Or I ask them what they think will happen! This works for things like the dentist, getting their hair cut, going to kid’s church, riding in the car for a long period, and the list goes on. For my preschoolers, I’ll explain in depth what will happen and ask them to repeat it back in their own words. This helps them own it and, later, if they start to complain or get nervous I’ll ask them to repeat what I said and they do. It’s calming.
For my toddler I use as few words as possible and explain in brief terms. “A nice lady will use scissors to cut your hair. No crying or fussing and when we’re all done we’ll eat lunch. Can you say, “yes, mommy?” We can expect kids to just go with the flow since they have to, but it’s much nicer for them to be prepared.
2. Practice various scenarios.
For a while my son froze up when someone talked to him. It seemed like he was being rude, but I knew he just had no clue what to say in that moment. During random pockets of the day that were turning unruly (the same times I use to “interview” the kids) we’d practice saying hello, goodbye, or asking a simple question. After a few times he got it, was proud of himself, and hasn’t had trouble since.
You might want to practice dropping them off at the door (practice at your own door), standing up and reciting a verse or sentence, singing loudly, or whatever else they’ll need to do. You can practice appropriate greetings for their friends, the friends’ parents, or the elderly. Practice it until they are not nervous at all with you. This will help immensely.
3. Handle weirdness well.
Kids aren’t born knowing how to handle things. They need to learn. We shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations (for them or ourselves), but rather take things in stride. Kids hiding between your legs, freezing at piano recitals, throwing a tantrum when you have to drop them off at preschool or daycare. These things happen. A child will look to her mother’s reaction during this time as well, to see if mom is pleased or not.
This is when you can use the phrase “we’re working on it.” Don’t be embarrassed or act panicky which will only make your child feel worse. Calmly and with love say it’ll be okay and remind them what will happen. You might need to give them a minute to gather themselves – don’t we all need that from time to time – but be calm and help them persevere.
4. Go over what happened.
This is similar to preparing beforehand, but it’s simply after. Whether a situation was smooth or bumpy, asking them to remember will help them internalize the experience and learn from their mistakes or help them feel good about how they handled it. Again, be calm and loving, but you can say, “When I tried to drop you off at daycare you really got upset! You didn’t want to go, huh? What happened?”
This debrief time may be very revealing to you about their thoughts. I am always amazed at the things my kids come out with that I never would have thought. I’ll brag on the kids too if they handle things well. “I was so proud of you guys for sitting happily and waiting for mommy to finish her appointment. Man, it’s fun to bring you with me when I can count on you to behave!” These types of cheesy sentences are not cheesy to your kids.
If there’s something “big” the kids need to do out of their comfort zone, prepare them beforehand and recap it afterwards.
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