How to help a shy child participate in school

Shy kids may not experience school in the same way as their more outspoken peers. But just because your child is shy doesn't mean that they can't fully participate in school. Use these strategies to help your shy child find personalized ways to share their thoughts and gain confidence.

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Some children find school a thrilling experience: They wave their hands in the air to answer questions, belt out songs during group sings, and are the first to sit down for snack.

Other children are less thrilled. Shy or more reserved kids can find school overwhelming. They may hesitate to speak out in class, hold back from the group, or prefer to keep to themselves, playing quietly in a corner.

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How to help a shy child participate in school

Realize that shyness isn't a fixed trait. Just because your child is shy right now, this doesn't mean they'll always be that way or that they'll be shy in every situation. There's also nothing inherently bad about being shy, so don't feel like you have to change your child's behavior. Instead, find ways to help them be successful in school, even when they're feeling shy.

Talk to the teacher. Stay in touch with teachers and school staff. Parent-teacher communication is an important tool for helping shy kids in school.

Start by comparing notes on how your child acts at school and at home. What activities do they love at home that aren't part of the classroom? What does your child dislike that they're expected to do at school? Gather information with your child's teachers, and look for ways to help make the classroom an engaging and comfortable place. Meet with the teacher and work out a plan.

Bring their interests to school. For example, if your child is fascinated by bugs, ask their teacher if they can bring their collection in to share with the class. Your child may balk at making a formal presentation, but there could be an opportunity for them to talk or answer questions. The teacher could hold a bug discussion using your child's materials as the visual aids, or create a bug station based on your child's supplies.

Even if your child doesn't speak up right away, just having their favorite things in class can help melt their shyness. They can participate and feel a sense of belonging, which is a start. Even sharing a book or toy your child loves can help.

Visit their school. Having you visit their classroom can help your shy child feel more comfortable at school. Your schedule may not allow regular or lengthy classroom visits, but even touching base now and then gives you a chance to observe. You might be able to come in to read a book, help at lunch, or chaperone a field trip.

Make sure they're challenged. If your child is reluctant to participate in classroom activities, it may be because they're too easy. If you suspect this is an issue, work with the teacher on ways to give your child more challenge. Alternatively, your child may be holding back because the activities in class are too challenging. Talk to your child's teacher to find ways to appropriately challenge your child. Depending on their age, consider involving your child in these discussions as well.

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Help them at home. Sometimes kids act shy at school because they're anxious about not getting things right. Some children have an easier time grasping new skills in a quiet place, without the stimulation and pressures of the classroom. If your child is awkward painting with a brush, giving a presentation, or writing a story, practice together at home. Give your child chances to improve, but try not to add pressure. The idea is to build your child's confidence.

Focus on their accomplishments. Don't just pay attention to the stumbling blocks. Celebrate your child's wins in and out of the classroom. Playing a sport, learning an instrument, participating in community service projects, and even being a good helper around the house can help build your child's confidence at school.

Be their "student." You can help your young child role-play "school" at home as a nonthreatening way to practice being in the classroom. Set up a classroom with stuffed animals, and let your child act it out. You can help organize the game and participate as one of the "students," but let your child steer the flow of the classroom. You may discover school fears, such as mean kids or a grumpy teacher. If, as their "student," you can play lightly at being scared of the kids or the teacher, your child may find this very funny. Their laughter may help release some of their scared feelings so they can be more confident. Talk about what's going on, ask your child questions, and use the information for talks with their teacher.

For older kids, ask them to teach you or a younger sibling something they've learned at school. Pay attention to how they're communicating as they teach. Start a discussion about how teaching and learning happens in their classroom and what feels good and not-so-good about it. If any issues come up, strategize with your child about how to improve them.

How can I encourage my shy child to speak up?

Just because your child is shy doesn't mean they can't fully participate in school. Instead of asking your child to be more outspoken, encourage them to share their brilliance in a way that feels good to them. Discuss how important it is for people to learn from each other and how they have a unique perspective to bring to school. Discuss different ways to participate in class: talking with a partner, using writing or drawing, discussing with a small group, or sharing with the whole class.  

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Your child doesn't need to be a gung-ho, first-in-line student to learn. But easing their fears even a little can make school a more enjoyable experience, which promotes learning and is a worthy goal. By following the tips above, you can help your child feel more confident at school.

You want your child to be enthusiastic about school – but try not to worry too much, especially if your child's still in preschool. During the preschool years, kids are just beginning to learn how to interact with peers and participate in group activities. Many preschool-age children still feel most comfortable doing parallel play alongside other kids, observing and imitating rather than playing directly with friends.

In kindergarten most children play interactively, but they're still adjusting to the social environment of school. In both preschool and kindergarten, children are testing new ground and learning new rules of behavior. It's a process that can take time.

As shy kids get older, they may find it more comfortable to play with one friend or a small group of peers. Encourage your child to reflect on the social situations in which they feel more or less comfortable. Discussing and normalizing feeling shy can go a long way.

Just as personalities differ, kids vary tremendously in how they relate to school. Some children take longer than others to adjust to a daily classroom routine or to a new school, teacher, or class. Some are shy at first but eventually open up. Others stay shy – and there's nothing wrong with that. Normal shyness isn't a problem that needs fixing.

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How can I tell if my shy kid needs help?

Most shyness or quietness isn't a serious problem, but in some cases shyness can be debilitating, causing kids to withdraw and avoid social situations. In these cases, problems with socializing can continue into adulthood. Shyness can also be a sign of an anxiety disorder in kids.

A few red flags may indicate that your child needs professional attention. Talk to your child's pediatrician or the school psychologist if your child:

  • cries or throws tantrums on a regular basis before or at school
  • is significantly withdrawn most of the time, making little eye contact
  • acts violently in school, hitting other kids or teachers

Also, if your child's shyness interferes with daily life and friendships, ask your child's doctor for a referral to a therapist.

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BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

AAP. Shyness in Children. 2009. American Academy of Pediatrics. a new window [Accessed June 2022]

Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Undated. Help Your Child Overcome Shyness. a new window [Accessed June 2022]

Lily Jones

Lily Jones is an educator, writer, and mother. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two kids, and dog.