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Social Inhibition - 3 Year Old Boy

My son is three years old and he is very introverted. He is very open at our house but in front of others he is very shy.

When he was eight or nine months old, and after that he was not ready to go to other people's place. Now at least he has started going to other people's houses but does not sit there. He does not mix up when other children are around or play and dance with them.

How do I make him more open and social? I am in India.

Comments for Social Inhibition - 3 Year Old Boy

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Shy Three Year Old - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Radika
You actually can't make a child become an extrovert. I would guess your little boy simply has a shyer personality than some other children. And there is nothing wrong with that. Most children are naturally more outgoing at home because their home environment is where they feel most secure. They know the people there, trust them and are not overwhelmed with having to relate to a whole lot of new people.

Many many adults are introverts - (I am one). We get our sense of self through introspection and reflection, and very easily get knocked of center when in large groups. Your little boy is probably much happier one on one with people, than in a group.

He will develop better skills at coping with new people and situations as he gets older, but you can't force it. In fact putting children in situations that is too stressful, can be counter productive. We all need new situations to be able to learn new skills and try out new behaviors and ways of interacting, but introverts need plenty of time to integrate that and need quiet time, or introspective time to be able to process things.

Extroverts on the other hand get their sense of self in relationship with others. They need other people to bounce off, and are energized with others. Introverts get overwhelmed and loose energy with lots of other people.

We need all sorts of personalities in this world and it is likely your little boy will be a sensitive soul, and less likely to want to be involved in running with the pack.

Of course you continue to encourage him to test out the waters, but if you push him to go into the group to play he will likely resist. He most likely needs to observe and play on the edge of a group until he feels really ready to join in.

His stage of development is that he is right in the middle of learning to interact socially, and it takes some time to learn social skills. If you observe groups of children together, there will be a range of personalities, and also a range of skills. Some will be bossy, some will want to please and follow the leader, some will be engrossed in their own game.

Some learn earlier than others to share and play cooperatively, and some take a while to move beyond parallel play - that is play where they play alongside, but don't yet share toys or interact with the other child. Boys are usually less social than girls, girls usually develop those kind of social skills quicker.

Part Two Follows . . .

Shy Three Year Old - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

He may feel happier to start playing with just one other child, rather than many at once. And having children over to his territory may not feel so overwhelming.

It can be a good idea to have something ready they can both play with so that the pressure is off him to have to interact. We tend to say "go and show Robert your toys" and that is a huge pressure to a child who is feeling shy and overwhelmed.

Having some play-dough set up would be one idea, so they can both sit down together with you and start making things. Just talk away normally to them both rather than pushing your son to have to say or do anything. He will learn from your interactions and when he feels comfortable, start initiating conversation.

You can also think about what he sees around the family - are you outgoing? I am not suggesting you should be, but just wondering how he experiences you. Are there lots of visitors to your home? Do you have lots of conversations with different people?

It may well be that going to visit a group of friends or to a playgroup is a really big occasion, very different to what he is used to. So he will find that a bit overwhelming and scary.

Sometimes kids just need to sit on your knee watching the others and absorbing it all. We tend to push our kids because we want them to be seen as successful children, interacting and playing nicely. We also sometimes want some time out chatting to our friends and having a clingy child can be a bit annoying! But the more you push, the more uncertain he will be.

Gentle encouragement works best, just showing him by doing it yourself. Go and choose a toy, or sit and ask another child what they are doing, will help him to learn from you. Sometimes reading stories is a good way for him to feel comfortable with other kids gathering around but not feeling pressured to do something.

I was always the child found hiding behind the chair with a book rather than racing around playing chasing games! I loved having little friends to play and usually had one special friend, but you would not find me in the pack of noisy loud kids! Too overwhelming!

Part Three Follows . . .

Shy Three Year Old - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Your son will be fine, he just needs to progress as he feels safe and comfortable, and in time he will join in more and more. He will learn more skills to be able to deal with more people as he gets older, but the first thing is learning to honor how we feel, and respecting that. Yes, you can push through the comfort barrier and try new things, but think about it, for a three year old, most of what happens in their life is new! There is a lot of new experiences and challenges just growing up.

You can also try taking him to lots of different kinds of environments where he sees different people and lots of things happening. No requirement for him to do anything or interact, but it all just expands his thinking.

Some examples might be, going to a construction site, visiting a museum, go to a hospital, take a bus or train ride somewhere. Introducing him to different environments and people and seeing them and you interact in different situations will all be good for him. Having you there helps him to feel secure and not so overwhelmed.

Don't worry about him, just enjoy him, you will really appreciate his gentler quieter nature when you have a teenager in the house! But by then he will be much more outgoing and confident!

All the best,
Annie D:)

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