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Easing Shyness

She hides behind your legs when she meets a new grown-up and refuses to tell the waitress her order. She's in kindergarten! Shouldn't she have outgrown this behavior by now?

Not necessarily. Some kids are simply bashful by nature, says Marilyn Greene, an early-childhood specialist in Agoura Hills, CA. In fact, there's an actual shyness gene. But while your little turtle doesn't have to be the life of the party, you should do what you can to encourage her to come out of her shell. Some tactics to try:

Do the wave. That's the option Parenting staffer Deborah Skolnik offers her shy 5-year-old, Genie, when she meets someone new. "I tell her she doesn't have to say anything -- she can just wave hello," says Skolnik. "Half the time that's enough to help her open up."

Chip away at the ice. After introducing your kid to someone new, include her in the conversation. Once she warms up, she's less likely to be shy.

Prep her. Before a gathering where there will be new people, tell her a bit about who she'll be meeting and what they look like. That way, they won't seem like total strangers.

Let her follow orders. When you're at a restaurant, let her listen to everyone else say what they want. She may be able to speak up if she sees it's not hard.

Don't push. "It can backfire," says Greene. If you can't gently lure her in, then just let it go. But if her shyness seems to be getting in the way of learning (or making friends), check with her doctor.