How Parents Can Help Shy Children Come Out Of Their Shell & Make Friends

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smiling girl holding carrots

Does your child find it too difficult to play with new kids? You know they're supposed to step outside their comfort zone, but it's just too hard for them.

As a parent, you can learn how to help shy children make friends.

The first thing you need to do is ask your child, "What makes this hard? Why do you avoid trying new things and joining in?"

The beauty of asking questions is that it allows the child to identify — for themselves — why this is the case and what lies outside their comfort zone.

Your child may truly not know what to do or how to join in.

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So, if you want to know how to help your shy child break out of their shell, here are 3 ways to go about it.

1. Identify something new each of you can try.

Make a pact with your child to each step outside your comfort zones and try something new.

Work on something hard for you and your child will work on this. Let them pick any activity, group, or sport that they can just show up to.

Introduce the concept of the "comfort zone tool." We all know how it feels to tackle something outside our comfort zone — all the more when it’s something hard for us.

2. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone.

This exercise is a low-stress way to engage the child who is struggling to keep an open mind or start the process.

If your child has trouble with change, shows less buy-in than you wish, or says there's no problem, this can be invaluable.

Here's an Outside Comfort Zone exercise you can try.

Explain what it means when something is "outside your comfort zone." What is the "comfort zone"?

Use examples from your own daily life. What things do you do easily every day? What things push you toward the edge of your comfort zone or clearly outside it?

For example, I was nervous to learn how to ski. It felt uncomfortable at first.

You can prompt your child by asking questions about this idea of being uncomfortable and stretching to get beyond it.

"Remember when you went to a new soccer team and felt like you wanted to stay with the old one?"

Explain that in order to change and grow, we all must be willing to lean into discomfort and engage in the process.

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Outside comfort zone circle: On a piece of paper, have your child draw a large circle to represent his comfort zone. Leave a margin around the circle — that’s going to be the space for things outside his comfort zone.

Ask them to jot outside the circle some things that are outside their comfort zone. Let your child tell you what those are.

Inside comfort zone circle: Ask your child to jot inside it things they do that are inside their comfort zone.

These might include joining in with younger kids, staying out of the lunchroom, sitting only with one safe friend, things he loves like Legos, going to grandparents’ house, the after-school program he prefers, eating favorite foods, playing with the same people, or in the same place.

Inside or Out? If your child hasn’t already named specific social expectations or situations, then ask, "Would _____ be inside your comfort zone or outside your comfort zone?"

3. Model stepping out of your comfort zone.

Modeling is the best coaching tool.

As a parent, you, too, should push yourself into unfamiliar places. Modeling to your child that you're willing to do things that you wouldn’t normally do is the best way to coach them to do the same.

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Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.