Q. My daughter is shy. This is, of course, a label I avoid using with her, but it is the best description. She feels uncomfortable in challenging situations.
After three-fourths of a year of nursery school, she is still unable to speak to the teacher or in a group situation. She will not participate in songs or group-action situations. Though at 3 1/2 she speaks clearly and with a good vocabulary, she is unwilling to utter even the most basic words or phrases with most adults, even when they are fairly familiar.
I have tried to encourage comfortable social settings, and she plays well with children in our home. Unfortunately, her awkward feelings inhibit others from acting friendly.
How can I make her feel more comfortable with others, and how can I make others feel more comfortable with her?
A. Let this be a reminder to all of us who sometimes forget that each child is different--and some are more different than others.
Some children are born to be outgoing, some are not. This is just the way they are.
To Dr. Jerome Kagan, the Harvard researcher, about 10 percent of all 2 year olds are shy, and about a third are shy from birth, either because the mother was under stress during pregnancy or because the child is biologically predisposed toward shyness.
While you don't want to label your child when you talk with her, you don't want to label her in your own mind either. You may think your child doesn't speak to the teacher at nursery school, or when she's in a group, but she's really speaking in the way that comes most naturally to her: She's using the language of silence. It's her way to ask people to keep their distance, which means that school probably isn't right for her yet.
Most children are delighted with nursery school at 3; a few would be happy there at 2, and some children need more time at home so they can learn to play with others in a quieter, more controlled situation.
The child who feels too shy at school to play with other children will feel like a failure, for she will see she's not fitting in. Each day that she's there will only reaffirm this negative picture she has of herself.
Instead, have her build on success by having school at home, with one or two of her friends over at a specific time two to three times a week. When your daughter has been talkative for several sessions, you can change the setting by going to the park or an ice-cream parlor. And then try home again for the next meeting, but perhaps add another child. Bit by bit, change the membership of the group and the days, so that she feels comfortable with more and more children, and so they feel comfortable with her. In doing this, however, always keep activities gentle and low-key. You also want to be ready to de-escalate again if she begins to withdraw into silence.
This is considerably more trouble than nursery school, since you--or your husband--would be the only parents involved, but the trouble should have a short run. If your child is accepted on her own terms now, she will be much happier when she's older; she will have had the extra measure of security a shy person needs. If this still isn't enough, she may need some play therapy, but that's unlikely. She probably will be ready for regular nursery school in the fall or at least by next January, but look for one that is smaller and quieter. Her elementary school also should have smaller class sizes if possible and probably a bigger emphasis on art and music than on sports (in which most players are outgoing, and she's apt to feel left out). When she can build on her abilities, she will be much stronger and not quite so shy, but don't expect her to step too far out of character.