Don't worry, he won't still be clinging to your leg in 10 years.

How to Help Kids Come Out of Their Shell

by Alice Drinkworth

Your toddler spends more time clinging to your leg than playing with his friends at playgroup. Relatives don't know the sound of his voice because little Tommy tends to clam up in front of them. It is normal for some small children to be shy at times, particularly between the ages of 2 and 3 when children go through a second phase of "stranger anxiety," according to While shyness alone is not necessarily a problem, giving your toddler or preschooler a boost of self-confidence could help draw him out of his shell.

Accept your child's personality. Some adults are talkative and outgoing, while others are quiet and reserved, and the same is true for toddlers. Remind yourself that there is nothing wrong with having a quiet and reserved personality. If your child is generally well-behaved, makes eye contact and seems happy with himself, then his shyness is probably due to temperament, rather than a symptom of a larger problem.

Keep playgroups small. Invite only one or two friends over to play. Small groups are less intimidating and give your child more opportunity to interact -- and fewer opportunities to get lost in a crowd.

Give your little one fair warning about a potentially stressful situation. If you are going to a birthday party, visiting relatives or trying out a new playgroup, don't spring it on an already timid child; it could send him cowering behind you, just trying to take it all in. Tell him ahead of time where you are going, what is going to happen and who is likely to be there. He'll feel less anxious if he knows what to expect.

Get the home-field advantage by hosting playdates at your house, where your child is most comfortable. He's more likely to be interested in playing with friends on his own turf.

Give him an icebreaker; sometimes shyness is just a lack of an opening line. Bring a snack or an extra toy to a playdate and ask your child to share it with the other children. Having the words to make the first move could lead to a friendship.

Join in the fun. Instead of brushing your toddler or preschooler off your leg when he is being clingy, become his playmate. Tackle the slide at the park together. Set up a game of Candy Land for his friends. Your presence provides reassurance until he is ready to take the lead.

Tell him when he gets it right. When he makes a new friend or tries something new, get excited, clap your hands, give him a hug. Everyone likes to know when they've done something right.

Check yourself. You are his most important role model. If you hold yourself back in groups or don't like to try new things, your child is likely to follow suit.


  • Don't force a shy child to perform. This only makes him more self-conscious and determined to avoid situations that make him uncomfortable.


  • Consult your doctor if your shy child does not make eye contact, seems unhappy with himself and displays other behaviors that make you suspect his shyness is a symptom of something more severe.

About the Author

Alice Drinkworth has been a writer and journalist since 1995. She has written for community newspapers, college magazines and Drinkworth earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Wisconsin and won a media award for her in-depth coverage of local politics. She is also a certified master gardener.

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