Parenting Resource

Parenting Strategies to Help Children Meet New People

Feb 22, 2010

Is your child hesitant or shy around new people? Or do they approach new people eagerly and openly? Find parenting strategies to help your toddler behave appropriately around new people.

Some children are hesitant and shy around people they don’t know. Children who are slow-to-warm-up tend to:

  • need time and support from trusted caregivers to warm up before they feel comfortable enough to interact;
  • may be very happy to play on their own or with just one familiar friend or adult;

  • prefer hanging out with you; and

  • are likely to be just as content as more social and outgoing children.

Other children approach new people—adults and children—eagerly. “Glad-to-Meet-You” kids tend to engage newcomers by smiling, cooing, and looking them in the eye, even as babies. They often project a sense of openness and ease, which elicits warm, positive responses from those they meet.

Most children fall somewhere in the middle. Sometimes they’re hesitant and need some help and support around new people, and sometimes, they jump right in.

Parenting Strategies for a Child Who Likes to Take it Slow

  • Think of yourself as a safe home base. Introduce your child to new people from the safety of your arms. Place her on your lap near another child and talk about what the other child is doing in a soothing, reassuring voice.

  • Communicate positive feelings toward others nonverbally. Use your facial expressions and body language. Your child looks to you for cues.

  • Suggest that new people take it slow when they interact with your child. Give them your child’s favorite toy or book, and let them use it as a bridge to connect with him.

  • Whenever possible, prepare your child to meet new people ahead of time, and give her lots of time to get used to places such as a new child care center. Share something about the new situation or person that will help your child know what to expect and that also might interest him: “We’re going to a new friend’s house together. They have a dog.” The more he knows ahead of time, the more comfortable your child will feel.

  • Use children’s books and photographs to help your child know what to expect. Books about a meeting new people, going to a new school, or other encounters with “the unknown” can help your child have an idea of what to expect in a new situation. Showing your child pictures of the people she will be seeing can also help her to prepare and feel more familiar with them.

  • Don’t label your child as “shy.” Labels can stick and aren’t helpful to your child. You can just explain to your child and to others that he likes to take things slow.

Parenting Strategies for a “Glad-to-Meet-You” Child

  • Provide lots of opportunity for social interaction. The glad-to-meet-you child thrives on it.

  • Be ready to step in when needed. Even the most sociable child can find himself in situations where a helping hand is needed to resolve an argument or soothe hurt feelings. By stepping in when needed, you help ensure that time spent with peers is safe and enjoyable.

  • Watch for well-intended over-enthusiasm. Sometimes, children’s feelings of excitement about being around other children are so strong, they may end up knocking over another child with a big hug or even biting another child. Help your child learn to express excitement in less physical ways. For example, make a game of taking turns hugging each other to help her learn what feels good and what is too rough.

  • Read your child’s cues. Even the most social child has moments when he is unsure, frightened or tentative. Offer some extra time and support when he needs it.

  • Give your child some time to play on his own. Playing alone gives your child the chance to use his own resources and imagination.

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