Imagine this scenario. You’re excited for your toddler to participate in his first soccer game. He loves everything sports-related, and to him, playing ball is better than an ice cream sundae.
But when you arrive at the practice field for the first time, your timid toddler wants nothing to do with it. In fact, he’s on the verge of tears and won’t leave your side to join the other kids on the field.
Many of us have been there. We’re eager for our kids to try something new, but their timid nature holds them back. So, should we encourage our child to join in because we know he’ll love it, or should we comfort him and go home?
“It’s OK to encourage him a little bit. But parents have to do it in a reassuring, positive way or it can backfire and make his fear even stronger,” said Dr. Sarah Adams, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Hudson. “When parents encourage in a positive way, the child becomes secure that his parents are going to protect him in any scenario.”
For timid toddlers, it’s best to test the waters and ease into new situations or it can make your anxious child even more anxious. Reassuring your child helps him understand it’s safe, and positive encouragement gives him the chance to learn what the situation is all about. But if he’s still not interested, it’s best to back down and try again in another situation.
“If you give your child time and patience, you’re more likely to have success,” said Dr. Adams. “It takes timid or shy kids a little more time to warm up to new situations and people.”
When it comes time for your child to try something new, Dr. Adams offers these Dos and Don’ts for parenting your timid toddler.
Do be honest about the new situation. That doesn’t mean you have to give your child every detail, but give him just enough to try it. Sometimes too much information can scare a timid toddler.
Do consider timing when encouraging your toddler. If your child is hungry and tired, he will be less likely to cooperate and try something new.
Do demonstrate how to do it. If your child is scared of going down the slide, for example, demonstrate for him that it’s safe and can be fun.
Do bring their comfort item to help him feel secure in new situations.
Do be accepting of his tentativeness. Respect your child’s need for a little extra time to warm up to new situations and people.
Don’t trick or force your child into doing something he doesn’t want to do. For example, don’t push him down the slide. Tricking your child builds distrust, and it will only make him more anxious.
Don’t use negative encouragement. If your child is scared to play at the neighborhood splash pad, for example, don’t threaten that his friends won’t want to play with him anymore if he doesn’t join in. It can backfire and make him more likely to shut down in similar situations in the future.
Don’t dive in headfirst. Ease your child into new situations, especially those with a lot of people and loud noise. Instead, start small and build upon his experiences.
Don’t give up. Try again and again. If you keep it a positive experience, eventually he’ll want to join in the fun. Sometimes kids just need a little repetition to assure them it’s safe.
The good news is most kids outgrow their timid nature or find ways to manage it as they grow. Your child will overcome his tentativeness with self-esteem and security that’s developed through his experiences.
However, if your child’s timid behavior gets to a point where it’s affecting his daily routine, such as sleeping or eating, talk to your pediatrician.