When I had a daughter who didn’t speak to any adults, including my extended family and neighbors,for the first FOUR years, I wasn’t completely surprised. I’m one of those people who is way more more comfortable behind a book than in front of another person.
I also wasn’t surprised that she had boundless energy that had to be spent or we weren’t going to get any sleep. Afternoons at the playground, walking to Main Street instead of taking the car, and long walks around the track helped. Instinctively, we knew that sports were going to have to play a big role in this kid’s life. But how was she going to start playing sports if she wouldn’t talk to other people…or let go of our legs?
We all know that kids learn from their parents. Parents that eat right tend to have kids that eat right. Parents that stress education tend to have kids that are educated. Parents that play sports or believe in playing sports tend to have kids that play sports. We believe in all of these things.
We eat right, we believe in learning (though at younger ages, we were totally fine with learning through play). We also believe in the many benefits of playing sports. Without reading up on anything, we already had proof. Walks around the track made our daughter able to sleep at night, which in turn made our life easier.
“…we already had proof. Walks around the track made our daughter able to sleep at night, which made our life easier.”
But not talking to other people made our lives harder.
The great thing about sports and getting your heart rate up is it also has a calming effect on the body. So kids that are usually nervous or afraid are more likely to lower their guard after playing for a few minutes. And since spending every day at the playground was going to become boring eventually, we knew organized sports were in our future.
Here are some tips that worked for us:
1.Enroll in a Mommy & Me program
OK, I lied. We didn’t do this….we did do the rest though, promise. But looking back (and let’s face it – hindsight is 20/20), taking a Mommy & Me class coulda solved the problem early on. Either my husband or I would be there, and over a course of weeks and movement, at some point the anxiety threshold would lower.
2. Identify the sports that YOUR CHILD is interested in
This is one of the most important tricks! What is your child – not you – interested in? We know that there is a sport for everyone. Does he/she ever mention a sport? If not, what type of active play does your child do to entertain him/herself?
⇒Climbing, monkey bars, twirling ⇒ Gymnastics, Obstacle courses, Ninja Warriors
⇒Ball play ⇒ Soccer, basketball, T-ball, lacrosse
⇒Climbing, twirling ⇒ Gymnastic
⇒Dancing, twirling ⇒ Gymnastics, Dance
⇒Hockey, figure skating ⇒ Skating
⇒Animal lover ⇒ Horseback riding
⇒Introspective/not interested in sports ⇒ YogaKids, swim, golf, tennis
⇒Extremely active ⇒ Any running sport such as hockey, dek hockey, soccer, basketball, lacrosse
⇒Sport that he/she enjoys watching ⇒that sport
3. Model being “brave”
This one’s on you, shy Moms & Dads! You’ve got to step it up a bit and model being a bit more outgoing. Strike up a conversation with another parent, ask for play dates, invite people over. Opening up your child’s world to new people helps make them become more accustomed to being in situations with new adults.
4. Banish the “shy” word
One thing that I absolutely hated growing up was being called shy. We know now that kids shouldn’t be labeled, as it makes it more difficult to become more outgoing when everyone’s telling you how shy you are. Alas, there is a difference between being shy (someone that is fearful of judgement) and being introverted (someone that enjoys less stimulation). If you’re interested in learning more about the difference between the two, read this article.
Instead, celebrate your child’s victories and courage afterwards. Not proposing a “good job” for every small thing. Because we know that’s not good! But recognizing steps your child takes outside of their comfort zone helps make your child more comfortable with trying new things.
Things NOT to celebrate or draw attention to if your child doesn’t usually engage with others:
If your child speaks to someone they usually don’t acknowledge — do not react!
A reaction draws attention and can make your child self conscious or withdraw, which is exactly what you don’t want to encourage.
5.Read books that have good role models and/or integrate sports
Back in the day we read The Little Engine That Could. Once he started believing in himself, repeating “I think I can, I think I can!,” the words became etched in many kids’ minds. The Little Engine That Could is still a great choice, as are books like “Courage” by Bernard Waber or “Brave Sophia” by Tamala Johnson.
6. Find smaller programs
Even with all of the drama associated with soccer clubs and parents, it’s still one of the best foundation sports. We didn’t think twice about signing our daughter up, knowing that she was relatively comfortable with a ball. What we didn’t expect was a stampede of 40 four-year olds with little to no supervision. We were there for about 10 minutes before we figured out that our shy girl wasn’t going to let go of our leg. $150 for 10 minutes – ouch!
How can you avoid this? It takes some legwork. Call or email the contact to get a better understanding of the experience before you register your child. (shameless plug here: if you have experience with a program, please post an authentic review so parents can learn from your experience).
So where did we end up? At a local dance studio (aka the #1 sport for girls). The upbeat music and limited number of kids in a smaller space was just the right atmosphere for our little one. By the end of the series, she had made a bunch of new friends – and learned some dance moves, too.
7. Work on skills before joining a team with peers
Sometimes it’s fear of failure that will keep a kid from doing something. We know one kid that believed that they knew how to ice skate before they ever tried. Sure enough, the first time resulted in some falls and embarrassment, and then a long hiatus from trying.
On the sly, one parent asked the kid if they wanted to learn how to skate “as a surprise” for the other parent’s birthday. They did! So each week they would go out to”run errands” and instead took skating lessons. The conspirator parent would reinforce the skating attempts by rewarding them with a treat at the end of each session. They also refrained from providing any constructive criticism at all – meaning no helpful hints, nothing. Of course, one of the fun parts was the weekly ruse of going off on a secret adventure.
We’re not proposing training in secret every time — but becoming comfortable with a ball or beam can do wonders.
Wow! When I started this post, I thought it would be relatively short & simple. I didn’t realize how much effort we put in and I still have more tips! Click here to read more of my tips for helping your shy kid get out and play.
Have you tried any of these tips? Let us know in the comments section below.