Learning Care Group News: February 13, 2012

Helping Your Shy Kiddo Become a Happy Kindergartener

I couldn’t help noticing Mattie and Sophie, adorable 4-year-old twin girls at our preschool. Obviously fraternal, Mattie had stick-straight hair bejeweled with sparkly clips (and the occasional tiara). She wore her tutu to school daily in hopes of an afternoon ballet lesson. Mattie leapt into action with her friends in the classroom without so much as a backward glance at Daddy. Mattie’s sister Sophie had bouncy curls and a sweet, shy nature. She held on to her Daddy’s leg until he pried her away for “the handoff” to the teacher, after which she cried until she was distracted by Mattie’s outgoing antics.

As we walked back to our cars, the girls’ father stopped me. “I’m really starting to worry about Sophie. She’s so clingy. How is she ever going to make it in Kindergarten this September? What’s wrong with her?”

Nothing, Dad. Sophie is like the 15 percent or more of children who are introverted – shy. Normal shyness is an inborn personality trait. Even as a baby, Sophie was easily overwhelmed in new situations and needed extra reassurance from Mom and Dad. Mattie, on the other hand, has always been adventurous and outgoing – ready to jump into any new activity. Poor Sophie is suffering by comparison. And in our hard-driving, extroverted society, she’s not alone.

It shouldn’t be that way, though. Normal shyness isn’t a reason for concern. In fact, shy kids usually become thoughtful, insightful, sensitive adults with excellent attention spans and great problem-solving abilities. And shy children don’t dislike other people; they just take longer to warm up to them. So even if she isn’t the first to burst into song, Sophie still can learn to make new friends, stand up for herself on the playground and have a great start in Kindergarten this fall.

We as parents hold the key to how well-adjusted our shy kids grow up to be. Acceptance, patience, support and reassurance are essential. Positive experiences help set the stage. Here’s how to make sure Kindergarten goes well for your shy kiddo:

  • Find a program that will work to help your shy child adjust this fall. Be up-front about your child’s personality, any concerns you have and your hopes for the school year.
  • Slowly expose her to her new school – stroll by the campus, walk through the hallways, and even chat with children or teachers if you can. Don’t make a big deal about it – your goal is to slowly but surely build a positive association with her new classroom or school.
  • Be prepared to be present in her classroom as much as is allowed the first few weeks of school. Don’t “hover,” but be available as needed, phasing yourself out as your child gains confidence.
  • And, most important, keep your own anxieties at bay. Your child knows when you’re worried – and when you’re confident in her.

The next time I saw Sophie and Mattie at drop-off, Dad was sitting cross-legged in the classroom with Sophie on his lap. He chatted with her and the other kids until she felt comfortable joining in the fun. After a quick check-in with the teacher, Sophie, Mattie and Dad exchanged good-bye hugs and parted for a great day. I know Kindergarten will be just fine – for both girls!

Are you worrying about finding the “perfect” age to start Kindergarten? Read the next post in the series Redshirt, Greenshirt – The Surprising Pros (and Cons) of Starting Kindergarten a Year Late.

About the Author

Dr. Heather Wittenberg

Dr. Wittenberg is a psychologist specializing in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers — and parents. She offers no-hype, practical parenting advice on her blog BabyShrink — rooted in science, and road tested in her own home as the mother of four young children. She has helped thousands of parents over the years and knows that the most common problems with young children — sleep, feeding, potty training and behavior — can be the most difficult ones to solve.