Your Child is “Shy” Around Strangers
An Interview with Betsy by Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune
Q: Your kindergartener is extremely shy around strangers. How do you get her to warm up to relatives she only sees at the holidays?
Few topics are more complicated than family at the holidays, which is why Betsy Brown BraunÖ, author of “You’re Not the Boss of Me: Brat-proofing Your Four- to Twelve-Year-Old Child” (Harper Paperbacks)Ö, suggests a four-pronged approach.
No. 1. Change your language. “I never use the ‘s’ word,” Braun says. “Kids end up using that as an excuse: ‘I’m shy.’ Rather than giving them an excuse, we want to help them feel comfortable with who they are and help them move to a place that’s more socially acceptable. I prefer ‘slow to warm up’ because it’s a defined trait of temperament. Once you keep in mind that that’s all it is — that your child needs time — you can help him.”
No. 2. Prep your child. “Let him know, ‘Uncle Henry and Aunt Gert are coming over. Here are some pictures of what they look like. They live in Iowa. They have a farm. You haven’t seen them in a while and it might take you a little time before you feel like being with them. Just remember when people say hi, it’s nice to, in some way, say hi back.’ Give him permission to find another way to greet them. ‘One of the things we do when we see people is we greet them. You could wave. You could smile. You could pinky wave.’”
No. 3. Prep your relatives. “You can fertilize the ground by warning, ‘Just a heads up that Steven is a little slow to warm up. Just come in and greet him and then let him come to you.’ That’s really the best advice because when grandparents or aunts and uncles are sitting on the couch doing something interesting, eventually the child will sidle up to them.” Braun also endorses a “side door” approach. “Walking in and announcing, ‘Give Grandma a kiss!’ is the surest way to sabotage things. ‘Anybody in this room wearing tennis shoes that light up?’ is better. He’ll know you’re connecting with him, but in a more subtle way. You take the side door in, not the front door.”
No. 4. Ease up. “Don’t say, ‘I want you to look them in the eye and shake hands and say, It’s nice to see you, Uncle Ed.’ That just sets him up for failure. You want to set him up to be successful,” says Braun. “Remember that your child has to be your priority, not what your family thinks of you. Forcing it will sabotage the whole lesson and that just makes you the cooked goose on Christmas day.”