Kids can often get shy around strangers or when trying new things.
Parents have a tendency to push their kids into sports and activities they don’t like and can even resort to thinking their kids are failures.
This can often lead to tired and frustrated parents, thinking there is something wrong with their child and parenting style.
The good news is that it doesn’t need to be this way. There are tactics you can employ that will help your child get more active in participation – and give you a much deserved stress-free break!
Why do some kids struggle with getting involved?
There are many reasons some children are apprehensive when it comes to trying out a new game in the playground or activity their teacher has instructed.
In many cases, it would be hard to put the finger on an exact cause. But here are some of the possible reasons why some kids tend to be shy:
- Genetics & personality – aspects of personality can be influenced by genes. Babies that are emotionally sensitive often have shy personalities later in life.
- Learned behavior – the behavior of influential people can impact a child’s behavior. Parents, siblings, and other family members that display certain shy traits can be picked up by kids.
- Family environment – kids that are neglected or don’t spend much time with people close to them may become anxious. On the flipside, overprotective parents can also cause similar outcomes.
- Lack of social interaction – kids that don’t have the opportunity to interact with others and get comfortable with it from an early age can tend to look to avoid social situations.
- Criticism – children that have received lots of negative feedback from parents or bullied by their peers can become shy.
- Culture – people from various cultures respect and value different things. For example, parents from Asian cultures tend to assume more responsibility and authority over children. Children in these environments are more likely to comply with parents’ requests.
- Fear of failure – no one wants to fail or lose. For kids, this can be even more intense and often leads to a lack of participation and getting out of their comfort zone.
While we cannot directly impact some of these, parents can still have a huge impact on reducing shyness in their children. Here’s a look at a few things you can do.
Introduce them to a variety of activities
All kids are different. They may genuinely not be interested in all the things you enjoyed when growing up, so there’s no point in pushing them too hard.
Allow them to experience and experiment with a variety of activities. If they don’t take to hand-eye coordination activities like ball sports, try something completely different like climbing, cycling, flying a kite, or maybe some painting. Even in the colder months, there’s a range of things they can try.
Giving them exposure to a wider range of activities will widen their knowledge and help them decide what really suits them.
Focus on what they like
If you have found something that your child likes – congratulations! This is a major step in keeping them active and entertained.
Once you have found something they are interested in, you can continue to add new but similar activities that could match their skills.
For instance, if they like dancing, you can introduce them to gymnastics or skipping to widen their exposure. It’s not about being perfect, instead of about keeping them active, building confidence and having fun.
More encouragement, less criticism.
Nowadays, it’s becoming popular for entrepreneurs, but for kids, it’s always been important to know that it’s okay to fail.
At an early age, the most important thing with any activity is to have a go. If it doesn’t work out, there will be other opportunities to try again. As Malcolm Gladwell put it in Outliers, the only way to become an expert at something is doing it for 10,000 hours. So we shouldn’t be afraid if things don’t work out the first time.
This type of behavior can be encouraged and nurtured from an early age. When used correctly, positive reinforcement can condition a child to repeat praised behavior.
Used correctly, encouragement can provide children with:
- Improved self-esteem
- Increase motivation to achieve
- Mental strength and perseverance.
You can learn more tips and techniques for how to encourage children.
Lead by example
A child’s brain is like a sponge, and they will soak up so much from observing their parents. So as parents, you need to be on your best behavior and set the right example.
To start, you can be active yourself and even get your kids involved. Find something you both enjoy and take some time to have fun playing actively with your child.
If they have other interests outside yours, like playing on a soccer team, then go along to watch and provide support. At times they can be embarrassed, but mostly kids enjoy having their parents watch them participate.
It’s important to keep yourself from stepping in and coaching your kids, and rather you should support them when they’re trying something new. Saying things like ‘I enjoy watching you play’ works.
If parents are the biggest influence on a child’s development, the broader family is usually next.
While it’s not possible for some, having a family close to you can play a big part in developing a child’s desire to get involved in trying new things.
Activities such as family picnics, bike rides, basketball, or table tennis games in the garage contribute to exposing your kids to different social and physical environments.
It’s always easier starting something new with a friend!
If you have friends with similar aged kids or get to know someone that does, you should utilize the friendship to help both kids attempt new challenges.
Similarly, sons, daughters, or nieces or nephews are others that you should encourage to help your child get involved and try new things.
Last but certainly not least is to aim for an open dialogue with your child. You need to understand them and make them feel comfortable talking to you about their fears and hesitations.
It’s a parent’s job to help children understand the world around them and make sense of their day.
Kids can often give vague answers – like “I don’t know” or “it was okay”. Parents can learn to be more specific in their questioning, which can help kids open up — for example, asking, “What did you enjoy more, playtime or lunchtime?”.
Children are unlikely to tell you when something is wrong. With that in mind, parents need to observe their child’s behavior and ask about it. For instance, if you see your child looking unhappy, you could ask, “I noticed you had a funny face when I picked you up. What happened?”.
There’s lots more to learn, and each child is different. Check out Today Parent’s age by age guide for more help in talking to your child.
Chris is the main editor at The Games Guy. He’s had a passion for indoor and outdoor games for as long as he can remember. He’s concerned that today’s youth are not moving as much as they need to, so he’s interested in promoting different ways of keeping active and having fun.
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