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Timid Toddlers

When Mitch Golant, Ph.D., took his 2-year-old to the beach, the ocean terrified her, even as other kids played happily in the surf.

You want to help build your child's self-confidence, but don't push her into a situation when she's scared. A nervous 2- or 3-year-old won't necessarily be so timid her whole life, so let yours explore new things at her own pace, says Golant, author of The Challenging Child. Here's how you can help:

Talk about it. Your toddler probably can't express what's holding her back, so give her a hand: "You're sitting that game out, huh? How come?" Ask if she wants you to do something to help.

Give her a comfort item. If she's scared to be without you at a playgroup or on the other side of the sandbox, let her carry a small object of yours, like a "magic" key chain or a hair clip.

Make it a game. When Golant's daughter was afraid of the water, he pretended that the waves were a playful monster, and they squealed and laughed their way into and out of the ocean.

Take it slow. Don't expect your child to tackle that slide the first time: Instead, ask her how many steps she wants to climb, and then next time suggest she try one more. If she still doesn't want to, let it go. Peer pressure will probably give her the push she needs later on. For now, relax and try the swings instead.