Best Activities For A Shy Child: Have Fun, Grow Confidence

Reviewed by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Hayley Vaughan Smith, Person Centred Counsellor and The Ridge Practice and Everlief Child Psychology
Author: Hayley Vaughan-Smith, Person-Centred Counsellor

Do you have a child who is shy?

Perhaps they lack the confidence to join in the fun with other kids.  

Or maybe they hang back out of the spotlight?

Characterized by reserved behaviour or taking time to feel comfortable in unusual or uncertain situations, shy or quiet kids often need some help to break out of their shell.

This article explores lots of super fun activities for a shy child. I’ve chosen activities which can help them build healthy relationships, enjoy meaningful social interactions and build self-esteem and confidence.

a shy little girl on a swing alone

What is Shyness?

  • Shyness is a natural personality trait present in lots of children. There are many reasons why shy children may show shy behaviour. Genetics and environmental factors (upbringing) are probably the most influential.
  • We know that children learn and develop by modelling others’ behaviours.  So, it’s quite possible that if you are shy, then your child will observe and follow this trait in you.
  • Sometimes, a child is simply born with a pre-disposition towards shyness and with this in mind, can determine how they interact social in the world.
  • Shy kids tend to be introverted and sometimes prefer solitary time, or may take a more observant attitude when playing with other school-age children.
nine year old boy in karate uniform looking shy and anxious

Social Interaction, Social Anxiety and Shyness

When finding activities for a shy child, we need to consider how their shyness presents itself.

Most of us can feel a bit of apprehension in unfamiliar situations or when we meet new people.  

When I meet new people, I feel a mix of anticipation and apprehension. I’ve learnt the skills I need to make a connection, by using eye contact, starting with small talk and other useful social skills.

Sometimes, children really want to connect with their peers but don’t know how and this can lead to anxious feelings.

If you have a shy and introverted child with what seems to be an intense fear of social situations, it may indicate social anxiety or a ‘social phobia’.

This can lead to feelings of stress and overwhelming anxiety and in severe cases, interfere with everyday tasks both physically and mentally.   

That’s why supporting your child with how to manage in social settings is really important.

You can help them by:

  • Giving lots of praise and encouragement.
  • Staying patient, avoiding anger and never threatening them.
  • Modelling how to interact with people and share your own emotions and behaviours.
  • Positively encouraging independence. Let them know they can do it and keep trying gently.
  • Helping them to separate from you with reassurance and consistent messaging.
  • Giving them opportunities to navigate social situations safely, for example with you standing nearby ready to offer support.

TAKE THE QUIZ!

Brilliant Activities For Shy Children

One of the best ways for children to learn and develop social skills is through observation, play and fun.  

You may already have thought of some activities for a shy child. It’s wonderful to experiment with activities and see your child come out of their shell a little when they are in their happy zone!

Here are some of our favourites.

1. Exercise & Sport

We already know that exercise is really good for our mental and physical health.  

Activities for a shy child are a great way for them to tap into something that is focused and that may become a passion.

They may find that one-on-one interactions are the most comfortable environment for them.   Learning a skill such as martial arts, tennis or badminton would allow them to work in a 1-1 way.

They may feel less vulnerable or exposed when they can blend into the background of an environment which is less competitive or spot-light focused.

Examples include swimming, Yoga, rock-climbing or gymnastics.

So, keep this in mind when choosing a form of exercise or sport.

serious teen girl with indoor climbing wall behind her

2. Playgrounds & Parks

Playgrounds and outdoor activity areas such as gyms and skateboard parks are fantastic places where shy children can make friends and practise their social skills.

I remember all my daughters loving a trip to the playground and park. Here, they could decide if they wanted to interact with other kids.

The benefit of being in an environment where children don’t necessarily know each other means they can feel much less open to judgement than by peers.  

The park was a safe place in which they could have fun, sharing common ideas and practice their social skills.

These environments often have benches or picnic and seating areas. This is a great way for parents and carers to step away safely, showing their children they are nearby but that they can play can safely without needing to stick to the adult like glue.

3. Group & Team Activities

Shy children can often find a group setting overwhelming (the noise the pace, maybe working with strangers).  

However, they don’t always have to join in with a large group. There are plenty of smaller group activities which might feel more manageable for your child and you to navigate

There are some beneficial outcomes of your child working in group and in team activities.  

  • A sense of belonging
  • Skill building
  • Emotional support
  • Social skills development

Small group activities include:

  • Music and movement classes. Local music workshops and clubs often bring small groups together to work on learning instruments or working in choirs or ensembles.
  • Lego or jigsaw clubs. Children can work in small groups to complete a Lego design or jigsaw for fun, or sometimes competitively.
  • Art therapy group activities. A great way to allow children to express their creativity. Schools can often facilitate such groups.
  • Playing board games with family/friends.
quiet teen girl painting in class

4. Extracurricular Activities 

Most schools offer an extracurricular activity programme for all students including a range of activities for shy children.

Extracurricular activities can be one of the best ways to widen a shy student’s sense of belonging and camaraderie with their peers.

It’s also a great way to make new friends and develop life skills through new experiences.

Here are some fantastic activities for younger children who are shy. These can be both fun and passion focussed.

  • Gardening club
  • Music club
  • Chess club
  • Forest school
  • Ballet
  • Choir & drama clubs

Here are my recommendations for activities for older students.

They can play an important role in a student’s personal growth and help with skill building to support next steps including college/university applications.

  • Debating club
  • Choir
  • Stem clubs
  • Student government clubs
  • Sports teams
  • Academic clubs

In general I suggest taking small steps with a shy child.  

With preparation and planning, you can try out new situations very gradually. This gives young children the opportunity to test their capabilities and build confidence, with the support of you or someone they trust.

Here are some more of my recommended activities for a shy child, but the list is not exhaustive!

  • Joining the local library
  • Going along to local markets or fun days
  • Dance classes
  • Play dates at home
  • Scouting programmes
two boys playing chess, quiet, serious

How Much Alone Time Does Your Child Need?

This of course depends on their personality and what stage of development they are at.

The important thing I’ve learnt from being a parent of 3 children is that children need to go at their own pace while they work out their own needs and preferences.

Whilst all my daughters have learnt to feel good in their own company, sometimes preferring it, the level at which they do this is very different.

An introverted or quiet child may need far more time to process their thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Why might this be?

Well, for a child who is shy, the school day may be doubly challenging for them.  

They may not show much interaction with you when they get home from school. I really recommend that questions are kept to a minimum until they have had time to decompress with a snack and drink break first.

In my counselling practice, lots of children (not just those that are shy), find they need alone time on a regular basis, especially during the teen years where academic expectations, decisions, friendships and relationships can mount up.

Getting Help For Extreme Shyness

Being a parent of a shy kid can be challenging because you don’t know whether to push them, and if so, how much.  

But there is much you can do to help your child’s shyness and this is especially important if they have low self-esteem too.

First of all, be patient, kind and understanding. Listen and validate your child’s feelings. Ask them how you can help them.  

When a child is faced with going outside of their comfort zone, such as attending a birthday party or preparing a topic for a classroom discussion, shyness can make it feel quite scary or sometimes impossible.

Create a safe and supportive environment to enable your child to share how they feel in the classroom environment or when doing school activities.  

If you’re able to get a sense of how they manage, you can better gauge what support they may need.

If you feel your child is struggling with extreme shyness and you’re worried it might be affecting your child’s development and communications skills, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.

First of all, make an appointment with your family doctor. They can assess whether a referral to a therapist such as a psychologist or counsellor could provide your child with support and guidance.  

Understanding the underlying reasons for shyness can help in identifying the best possible pathway of support.

9 year old girl with therapist

CBT For Shyness

CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) is a highly effective therapy approach and I recommend it for shyness if there is also social anxiety, and if your child is aged 9/10 or above.

In CBT your child learns to challenge and adapt anxious thoughts, feelings and behaviours around shyness.

The CBT therapist can also help you and your child develop a graded exposure plan. This means taking baby steps towards facing difficult social situations and developing coping skills.

Shyness and Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is an anxiety-based condition which means a child will only speak in certain situations. It is more severe and enduring than shyness.

It’s important to remember that shyness can be simply a personality trait and a shy child isn’t necessarily unhappy or anxious.

Selective mutism requires professional support from professionals such as a child clinical psychologist or speech and language therapist (know in some countries as a speech and language pathologist).

a little boy with glasses sitting on the floor

Shyness and Autism

Autism involves communication differences which can often make social situations difficult for children.

This can overlap with shyness.

If your child shows other traits in line with autism, such as difficulty with change and transitions, black and white thinking, and sensory processing issues, I recommend having a discussion with your child’s teachers and your family doctor.

Related Articles

Anxiety Worksheets for Teens: A Toolkit for Managing Stress and Worry [Free PDF]

When Your Child Won’t or Can’t Talk About Their Feelings

Friendship Skills Checklist: Children’s Social Milestones (Free PDF)

Hayley Vaughan-Smith is a Person-Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.

Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care for four years.

Hayley is mum to 3 grown up girls, and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy. Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.

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