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Updated on Aug 7, 2009

The better approach for parents to take is what Coplan refers to as a stair-step approach— helping children make small social goals and complete one at a time. Today you step into the store with me. Tomorrow you walk up to the counter with me. The next day you make eye contact with the person behind the counter. Etc. “This is an extreme example,” Coplan says, “but you can take any type of social goal and break it down that way into these sort of mini goals.”

What can parents do in the few weeks before school begins again? Goldstein says there are four important steps parents of shy children should take. And all four, he says, can be started before the first day of school.

  1. Become educated. Take the time to become familiar with children’s differences in temperament. Don’t be the parent who says, “Well, I accept my child for who he is, but ….” Read a few articles online, read a book—become knowledgeable. And most importantly, believe what the experts tell you about children’s temperament. Belief, Goldstein says, is a valuable ally.
  2. Measure your mindset. Think about the children you hoped to have versus the kind of children you actually have. Goldstein suggests that you do a mindset exercise. On one side of the paper list the behaviors you hoped you would see in your children, and on the other side list the behaviors that have emerged. Do the same thing with your feelings and responses to the behaviors. How did you hope you would behave as a parent, and how do you actually behave.
  3. Make adjustments. If you’re raising the question, Goldstein says, it’s because your child is different from your expectations. Rewrite negative scripts in your head. Tell yourself that you’re going to respond to this behavior in a different way.
  4. Collaborate. You need to start the process, but you also need to help your child be a participant in the process. It’s not something you alone are doing. Your child needs to learn to be a good advocate for herself, and you can help her develop coping strategies to handle situations on her own.

And don’t forget the common sense steps: Make the beginning of school less stressful for your child. Visit with the new teacher and ask if your child can spend some time in the classroom helping out before the first day of class. Children thrive when they have specific tasks they have to perform—when they feel important. Having quality time to bond with the teacher before school begins will give your shy child more confidence.

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