Dear Doctor, 

We are worried about our 5-year-old daughter. She is a beautiful little girl, but she is very shy. She’s started kindergarten, but the teachers say she does not mix in with the other kids. We have had her in play groups in the past, and she always enjoyed herself, but in more of a solitary sort of way. We want to help her overcome this problem, but we are not sure how to help.

Concerned 

Dear Concerned,

Start with lowering your anxiety. All parents tend to “awfulize” their youngster’s future. Shyness is not fatal, and we vary quite a bit in our social reticence.

One thing you definitely should not do is lecture and label her as shy. Saying things such as, “Why don’t you want to play with so and so?” is another no-no.

Treat her behavior with gentleness and respect. Allow the group to provide the therapy. We are social creatures no matter our age. Your daughter will want to make a friend or be involved in activities.

Give her opportunities. This includes play groups, inviting other youngsters over, finding her interests and talents, or involving her in something she enjoys. Watch and allow her to discover her inner self. Initiate the opportunities for her. Then back off.

Bear in mind, shyness is not the same as anxiety and fear. If your daughter is tearful, clearly frightened or seems unduly anxious, an evaluation may be in order. Your pediatrician will know who might be helpful.

Meanwhile, treat her behavior with patience. Socialization is a journey and not a sudden destination.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lllrsn@comcast.net.

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