If your shy toddler is one of those who always seems to be suspicious of new surroundings and new people, and perpetually looks angry or worried when faced with anything unfamiliar, then you may be worried she isn’t getting as much fun out of life as she could have.
She is very slow to warm up, compared to other kids who immediately throw themselves into every new experience with total enthusiasm. She looks miserable and anxious, while the rest are having a great time.
There can be several explanations for your young child’s wariness of the unfamiliar, including:
Shyness Some children who are shy actually look like they are annoyed when they meet new people. Their suspicious facial expressions mask their underlying social anxiety about mixing with others they don’t already know.
Previous experience The last time your toddler met someone new, it might not have worked out the way she had hoped. Now she is afraid that will happen again.
Personality Not every kid can be the life and soul of the party. If your two-year-old is reticent and cautious by nature, that’s simply her way of engaging with the world around him. Her natural temperament makes her suspicious of strangers.
You almost certainly have nothing to worry about as long as your toddler’s suspicious nature doesn’t interfere with her life. For example, she doesn’t refuse to go to playgroup, she isn’t socially isolated with her peers and she doesn’t avoid going outdoors.
Even so, you may still want her to be more outgoing and trusting to others, and to appear less withdrawn and aloof when meeting someone new.
One of the best strategies is to create opportunities for your shy toddler to spend time with other children and adults. This could be when her grandmother looks after her for an afternoon or when the babysitter stays with her while you go out for an evening. You could also take her along for lunch dates with your friends.
The more opportunities she has to socialise, the more confident she becomes in managing these experiences. The same applies to mixing with her peers.
Do this even if she continues to appear angry or anxious. If you let your toddler miss new social experiences simply because she is wary of meeting new people, she won’t have the chance to learn how to respond differently.
Where possible, give your toddler advance warning that she’ll soon have contact with unfamiliar adults. You won’t always be able to do this, but a few minutes’ notice gives her time to prepare herself psychologically, for example, to meet unexpected visitors to your home.
And when they arrive at your front door, give her lots of assurance and encouragement to be less reticent with them.
But avoid putting her under excessive pressure to be overtly friendly. Explain to her that you will not force her to be warm and open with your visitors, but make it clear that you expect her to try.
You can also teach her specific social skills and practical actions that make her look less distant and apprehensive. For instance, explain that she should make eye contact and put a smile on her face.
Likewise, your shy toddler should keep her shoulders back and hold her head up straight. Encourage her to reply when spoken to.
Practise these through role-play – you can pretend to be someone whom she has never met before.