My 4yo is shy in new situations or with people that she sees infrequently. She has this shy posture: one shoulder goes up to the ear, the bottom lip goes out, she won't make eye contact, etc. I feel like every response I've had to this has been the wrong one. I know she'll grow out of it to a certain extent (it's been an issue for about a year and a half, but we have noticed some changes/improvement), but I want to interact with her in a way that encourages her to be brave without pushing her too hard. I regret that we ever discussed any of this in front of her (telling others, "She's shy at first.") because she is now aware of it and has used our language in some manipulative situations. She once told my mother that the reason she was doing a bad job of thanking her close family members for birthday gifts was because she needed time to warm up. We'd been there for an hour and a half already, and she sees everyone there pretty frequently.
At birthday parties for her friends, I'm more casual and don't really care that much. If she doesn't want to participate in the pinata, what do I care? One real problem is swimming lessons. There's a new session of swimming every ten weeks during the fall/winter/spring and 5 two-week sessions in the summer. Almost every time, she has a new teacher. She has had repeat teachers, but rarely back to back. Most of the time, there's some shyness on the first day, and then it goes away. A few times, however, and one session for the entire session, the shyness persists. Do I let her sit it out? Encourage her to get in? Sit on the side right next to her lesson? Sit at a distance? It's frustrating because we're paying for it (unlike the birthday parties) and the lesson is only 30 minutes long. She doesn't really have time to warm up. Obviously she doesn't have to take swimming lessons, but she really does like them. The issue is meeting a new teacher and new classmates. Also, I feel like if I let her avoid all new and challenging situations, she'll never develop strategies for dealing with them.
What are some age appropriate strategies that you've had success with?
I know what you are talking about. My 4yo is about the same. In our family maybe the problem is that we don't speak English at home and she is not in the preschool yet. Her older sister is already fluent in English, but the younger one still learns and doesn't understand what people are saying/asking. We were in swimming lessons during spring and sometimes it was pain (for her and for us as well ;-)). We found lessons, where parents were in pool at the beginning and after 3-4 sessions they were supposed to stay out of pool and only watch the kids. Everything was going pretty well until her instructor got sick and a new lady arrived. She did not want to cooperate with her at all. We were lucky there was a volunteer from the very beginning, she was used to swimm with. Otherwise we would only watch other kids. She definitely did not want to leave. I do not push her very much. Just a little and when I see she doesn't like it I leave her alone and tell her it is OK to be afraid a little bit and she will eventually get used on new situations and people as she gets older. Everybody is different and she should not be ashamed of being slower in this matter. She asks sometimes why I am not afraid of strangers etc. so we speak about that and step by step she improves. To be honest I did not expect she would stay in the pool with her instructor alone - and she did. I think the worst thing is to let them know they disappointed us by being scared. If they need their time, we should give it to them and I am not against discussing the matter with kids. Of course in calm way, saying that it is something natural, that people are different, somebody is scared, somebody is not and we can help ourselves to overcome it by pushing our limits a little bit. This works with my child, I hope it helps you too.