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Helping Your Shy Child Connect

Before you try to do your child a favor by setting up lots of playdates, remember it's not the number of pals your child has that's important. One or two close ones will be enough to help her feel more comfortable about friendships, says Kenneth Rubin, Ph.D., director of the Center for Children, Relationships, and Culture at the University of Maryland at College Park and author of The Friendship Factor. To help kids of all ages navigate their social world a little more easily:

  • Birth to 3 Years

    Set a foundation by organizing playgroups with other

    babies or toddlers. This will let your child learn to feel comfortable when interacting with new people.

    What not to do: Overwhelm him with too many social occasions. Little ones need downtime too.

  • 3 to 5 Years

    You want your preschooler to be at ease during a playdate. Before her buddy shows up, set a loose agenda: For example, have her choose two games she'd like to play and tell her to give her guest these options when she arrives.

    What not to do: Invite too many kids over for too long a time. One child for one hour is plenty to start with  -- you want this experience to be enjoyable.

  • 5 to 8 Years

    Find a noncompetitive activity that plays to your grade-schooler's strengths, such as art or dance classes, Boy Scouts, or martial arts. If the group is small, he's more likely to find like-minded kids he can be pals with.

    What not to do: Insist that your child's friends be the same age. "A younger buddy can make a shy child feel more socially comfortable and competent," says Rubin.

  • 8 to 12 Years

    Talk to your child's teacher, who can pair her up with supportive classmates when it comes time to work on projects. You can also encourage your preteen to tutor a younger child: It's a great way to develop the skills she needs for other interactions.

    What not to do: Ask your tween whether she's made any friends at school. A socially withdrawn child often wishes she weren't, and frequent comments about friendships will just make her more anxious.

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