Shy four year-old and group activities

Dear Patti,

My daughter is VERY shy. She is 4 years old and very attached to her Mom and me but especially her Mom. She is very bright, speaks beautifully and is very creative. However, its not been easy, but we got her finally going to preschool without it being a major trauma. She now does okay there until they perform a group activity, where they have to sing or dance or something that calls attention to herself. You can see that she wants to do it so badly, but she's afraid. We encourage her as much as we can, but we're not having much success. This is just one small example. She is somewhat disruptive now at school because the other kids don't like to do stuff when she won't. The teacher hasn't been real helpful. Any ideas ?

Question:

Dear Jeri,

You sound as if you have a perfectly normal child, who just happens to be shy. There are plenty of children just like your daughter, who will do things on their own time, when they are properly encouraged. It is now the school's turn to take over this situation when your daughter is in class. You have certainly done your job! The only other thing I can ask of you is NOT to worry. Shyness is not a disease!

The teacher must begin to look for ways to involve your daughter. Here's what I do:

First, I find something that a shy child is doing during the day, like making a beautiful drawing, and I praise it, loudly, in front of the other children.

It is important for your daughter not to get attention only when she is refusing to do something. That will just encourage her to assume this role more often. Positive reinforcement for some of her competencies is what is needed.

Then, with regard to any group activity, I always find a role for a shy child. If it's that the child sits by me, or holds an instrument, or turns the lights on and off during an activity or before and after an activity, I always make something up so that the class feels that the child is participating. If a child refuses to do anything but sit, and other children wish to do it too when they see her sit, then I turn the game into "doers and watchers." The doers perform the activity, and the watchers sit. Their job is to clap after the "performance" while the doers take a bow . Then I say, "alright - now we switch! Doers are watchers and watchers are doers" Most of the children will switch.

If your daughter won't switch in the beginning, she will not be as noticeable if there are other children sitting. If another child questions why one child continues to sit, I say "Well, So-and-so isn't quite comfortable with the doer side yet. But when she is, she'll get right up." This is usually explanation enough.

This can be done in any room where the teacher is sure of herself. Perhaps you can mention my method to your daughter's teacher, or print out this answer and show it to her.

Sooner or later, your daughter will begin to participate, when it is clear to her that there is more benefit to doing something than she gets as the child who always sits out.

Good luck!
Patti Greenberg Wollman

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