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My four year old is always extremely unsettled whenever they first interact with a guest.

It doesn't matter if it is another child who has played with many times before or an adult.

It also doesn't matter if it is at our house or outside somewhere like a park or restaurant.

There is usually 5 - 10 minutes of him trying to bury his head, not greeting the person, trying to pull us away from the person and quite often there will be tears.

This usually ends in him going to time out and once he has come out he is completely changed. His head will be up, he will be extremely friendly and talkative.

My wife and I have guests over quite regularly, so it is quite common for him to be around different people. But it happens almost every time.

I'm assuming it's some sort of anxiety with guests, so is there anything we can do to reduce this? We always tell him in advance when someone is coming.

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I don't know what you mean by going to time out but it almost sounds like you're trying to force the child to be participating and being social from the start.

Give the child time to adapt to the newcomers. Don't expect the child to be social and friendly immediately -- allow a number of minutes to get used to the situation.

Let the child play in his room until he feels ready to come out and greet. If he needs company (he's pulling you away) then give him some attention away from the newcomers, then get back to the guests. Since you say this only takes a few minutes, there's no harm done to your guests; it's not like you're leaving them standing by the entrance for an hour. And if you're more than one adult, then one can take care of the guests and one can take care of the child.

Our toddler is also hesitant toward new people at first, regardless if they're well-known relatives or strangers. This shyness goes away after a few minutes.

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"Going to time out" typically means giving the child a few minutes alone to calm down. It actually sounds like it may be exactly what xiaohouzi79's son needs, especially since it sounds like it consistently results in him feeling ready. Not that your advice is bad by any means. –  Beofett Apr 19 '11 at 12:59
    
I also want to point out that 'going to time out' is a last resort after he starts crying and screaming. Not as a punishment, but to get him out of the situation and allow him to calm down. –  xiaohouzi79 Apr 19 '11 at 22:13
    
Well in that sense, "time out" is more or less what I suggested anyway, though I meant it as an up-front choice rather than a reaction. But it sounds like the same idea - not a punishment in this context. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 20 '11 at 12:19
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I think letting the child play in his room is a bit different. A time out is sort of an emotional reset mechanism for the child, whereas offering to let them go play in their room seems almost like offering incentive for them to continue to avoid socializing. –  Beofett Apr 20 '11 at 14:05
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"once he has come out he is completely changed [...], he will be extremely friendly and talkative." This doesn't sound like a boy who is prefers to avoid socializing - he just needs some time. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 20 '11 at 15:15
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We always talk about the people coming (important distinction from just telling them about them) - so we remember the last time they were there, perhaps some news about them, what we're going to do, if they're another child then we might talk about what toy to share.

Basically it's about setting her up to ask questions or show something off to the new person arriving, so rather than having her think about how to react, we're almost like actors rehearsing our lines, which are then delivered. By the time she's run out of prepared plot, she'll be relaxed and just ready to act normally.

This also helps because she has some sharing issues, so if we've prepared what toys she's going to introduce to the visitor, we're skirting around her being defensive about them before it has even happened.

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+1 for using active dialog to get the child involved and interested ahead of time. –  Beofett Apr 20 '11 at 14:07
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