minnesotamom asks:

How do I help my shy 5 year old gain confidence?

hello, I have a 5yr old that has always been very shy...he is now is kindergarten and hates to be the center of attention..will not participate in an activity that involves him being the "center" of the activity.  I need help to give him the self confidence to start participating..any suggestions?
In Topics: Self esteem and identity
> 60 days ago



Hand in Hand
Mar 11, 2011
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What the Expert Says:

What can parents do to help their children bounce back under adversity, with a basic sense of confidence in themselves in spite of difficult circumstances? And when a parent has a child who collapses when things are difficult, what can be done to build his resilience?

Studies have shown that if just one person in a child's life is consistently supportive, a child is much more likely to overcome difficult circumstances. Just one person who is enthusiastic about the child. Just one person who lights up when the child walks into the room.

Feeling close to one dependable adult is at the heart of resilience for children.

We parents love our children deeply, but sometimes our communication with them gets muddled. Disapproval, impatience, or indifference clouds our interactions with our children when we're overworked. We have to play many roles with them: sleep monitor, cleanliness checker, homework prodder, educational guide, the list goes on! And as we juggle those roles, our ability to feel our hearts lift when they walk in the room can wilt.

Dedicate time and enthusiasm.

Special Time is a simple way to remind our children that we love them. It works especially well when there are persistent irritants in our relationship with them, because it disciplines us, the parents, to be pleased with them for a specific period of time. I call Special Time a "listening tool" because it's a reliable tool for putting us parents in the listening, accepting, and enthusiastic role, so that our children can tell that we're behind them.

To do Special Time, you set aside a period of time, short or long, whatever you can carve from your day or week. You say, “Hey, tomorrow I'm going to have a half hour after dinner, and we can do whatever you want to do! Think about it, and we'll make it a date!” (If you have older children, you need to set conditions around whether or not you have transportation to go somewhere, whether or not you will spend money, and how much.) Then, enthusiastically go with whatever activity your child chooses. Jumping on beds, building a fort in the living room, making pancakes, going outside and playing catch, lighting a whole box of matches one by one in the back yard. Whatever they've chosen, you love them, make lots of eye contact, touch them affectionately, and energetically throw yourself into the play. Set a timer, and don't let anything short of an earthquake interrupt your focus on your child. When the timer goes off, let your child know you loved being with him, and let him know when the next Special Time will be.

What your child chooses will help you see what he loves and what he wants. This is very important communication for you to receive. When your child can show you what he loves, and you pay warm attention, he feels closer to you. That closeness is the heart of resilience. When a child's parents aren't able to play a good role, any other caring adult willing to be "crazy about" the child, and to give Special Time in some form, can build resilience in that child.

Listen to the feelings that emerge.

Often, Special Time encourages a child to try to express feelings that they need to offload. And this brings us to the second factor I think is crucial in building resilience in children. When children have someone willing to listen to their feelings all the way through, they can bounce back from disappointment. They don't have to carry festering upsets year after year. They express them, cry or tantrum their way through them, and see their world as shinier and more hopeful afterward. I like to call this Staylistening, because the parent has to make a conscious decision to stay with a child who is clearing away his upset feelings.

Children build resilience and confidence when someone cares enough to listen to their upsets all the way through, without arguing, trying to be logical, or condemning them for how they feel. The feelings are like a storm passing through—if the lightning can strike and the thunder can roll, the energy of the storm dissipates. If no one listens, the bleak thoughts and bad feelings are stored up, but they become hard to manage and are ready to pop at every little excuse. With regular chances to be heard, respected, and loved through an emotional storm, children come to depend on themselves and their ability to get through tough times, unfair times, frustrating times, and lonely times.

Staylistening gives a child a sense that although you don't have the same feelings as they do, you can love them just the same, and stay with them until the feelings change for the better. With listening, the feelings do lift. With listening, problem solving will follow a good, cleansing emotional storm. And your child, if not resilient already, will become so as you Staylisten through necessary upsets that help him clear the feelings he trips over every day as he tries to learn, love, and bounce back from adversity.

We parents need to build support.

Of course, to make these kinds of generous initiatives toward your child, you need to build your resilience as a parent! Parenting is an emotional ultramarathon—there's so much to learn and so little help with the work. Setting up a Listening Partnership, so you can take turns being listened to and returning the favor for another parent who's trying hard, is an excellent way to build your own resilience. You need some good-hearted person, who'll keep their advice and judgments on a short leash, while you talk about how parenting is going for you. Special Time and Staylistening are much easier to do when you've had permission to tell someone your hopes and disappointments. These Listening Partnerships make a surprising difference in the feel of life as a parent! And they give us a fighting chance to have fun with our children, an important part of building their bounce and their backbone.
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Additional Answers (2)

Redwood_Cit... writes:
Hi minnesotamom,

It must be heartbreaking for you to see your son feeling uncomfortable. I have a 6 year old who is also shy in this way. (When he was 4 we hosted his soccer team's end of season party at our house. His dad was the coach. You'd think he'd feel totally comfortable in that environment but when it was his turn to get his trophy he burst into tears when all the parents and his teammates cheered for him).

I honestly think it's just part of who they are. My younger son (4) LOVES to entertain and be the center of attention. No good reason for the two of them to be so different except that's how they came!

My advice would be not to push him. I think the more you push him to be the center of attention, the more he'll dislike it. I'd just do your best to prepare and support him when you know he's going to be in those situations ("Today you're going to get a trophy at your party. All the parents and kids will probably cheer for you when it's your turn. It will only last a few minutes and I'll be right with you the whole time"). As he gets older and more confident, it will all probably get easier for him. My six year old has come a really long way and we haven't done anything except support and love him. I've come to terms with the fact that he may never LOVE being the center of attention - I just want him to be able to get through it without being upset.

Hope this helps!
> 60 days ago

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Tyler&Harly , Student writes:
well i too was shy and hated being in the center of attention.... and still do but i think you should help him gain confidence by telling him nothing is gonna bite you you will be fine but if that dosent work... maybe he'll gain it himself one day... do what you think you should do
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