I have an 8 year old son who is unbelievably shy and/or scared in new situations. When he is at home, he is loud, confident and, yes, even a little out of control. However, once he is presented with anything new, he becomes a small mute statue, even if the new situation is something he will enjoy (such as his first time at an amusement park).

Obviously, helping him gain confidence is going to be a long term process, so I'm wondering if there are any good activities or ideas that I can use to help him gain confidence in new situations as he grows up.


5 Answers 5


If your child doesn't see this as a problem, I actually don't see this as a problem at all.

It may not be a confidence problem so much as he is a "watcher." I've known plenty of kids that need to have a couple of exposures to new people, places, or kinds of events before they seem comfortable. These kids, just need a chance to get the lay of the land by watching what others do. Once they know the expectations and "rules" of the new person, place or thing, they warm right up and know what they need to do to get along in the new environment.

There are advantages to opperating this way that include:

  • not facing the risks associated with rushing head-long into new situations in a way that creates a dangerous situation for the child or others. Not as likely to walk off with a stranger ready to go looking for that strangers' dog, Dive into the pond where there are dangerous rocks just under the water. . . its the risk takers that do these things - observers are generally not a kid that takes these types of risks.
  • These kids are less likely to get over-tired, over-filled with candy and other treats- or generally make themselves sick with too much excitement (at least in my experience).
  • Whether child, or adult, someone that observes first, is better able to "do what the Romans do - when in Rome." They won't make as many social faux pas in new situations and might be more apt to ask questions and learn more about the new situation rather than just "experimenting."
  • The child who opperates as "watcher" or "observer" first, is also ready to be a good listener to family members/ significant others etc. when older because he/she has the skill to hold back and wait to hear/see/learn what the other person is really getting at before reacting (not directly related, but very similar skills and there does seem to be a relationship - again, in my experience).

Having said all that, there are things you can do to help the "warming up period" be a little shorter for him as he gets older. Just be really careful to avoid pressuring or cajoling. I highly suggest to any parent offering up your opinion about choices once, and then letting them make the choice (unless it is a safety or values thing that you must insist upon - if he isn't into going wild at the amusement park, introducing himself to a specific potential friend, and other similar events - I really think letting it go is the best bet).

  • Try to be an observer yourself when you are with your child in a new situation together. By this, I mean, Observe your child. Don't compliment or suggest, but simply notice things and ask about them afterward. "I noticed you and that other boy smiling at each-other from across the field. Would you like me to see if I can help you get introduced?" If the answer is no, accept it, if the answer is yes, go model how to introduce oneself to a new person . . . Then you are helping with the social skills needed, but allowing your child to be himself at the same time. Another example might be after you get home, "Hey, I noticed you tried some bigger roller coasters this time. How did that feel?" By noticing, if he feels proud of having overcome a fear about something, he'll take it as a compliment. If he feels like he could use a little help getting even further with something you've opened up the road for a conversation about it -he'll ask. Or, if he didn't notice his own accomplishment you are calling his attention to it - without making such a big deal that it feels like it is too much or emmbarassing.

  • You can also "preview" predicatable new situations through books
    about said situation and role-play before hand. If he knows the
    "rules" a little better before, he may not need to observe for as
    long before he starts feeling more comfortable.

  • You said something in a convo in chat, about not wanting him to miss out on cool stuff over this and indicated you felt you had missed out on cool stuff because of a shier nature. Tell him about it - not necessarily in a moment of decision (that just feels like pressure) but as a part of your family memory and story sharing. Talk about cool experiences you did have successfully despite being nervous and how you gathered the courage to go try it out. Share with him about opportunities you had, didn't take, and wished you had taken later. Sharing stories about overcoming adversity and challenges with your kids is actually really good for them as it creates a unifying "story" of the family. According to this article, such collections of family stories told and retold helps in building a family (and children) with a resiliant outlook (which actually helps confidence too - having a resiliant outlook) on life. It also lets your child know you understand him and support him (as long as it isn't used to pressure him to do things he is uncomfortable doing) and gives him examples of what to do and what not to do in his own life if he decides to accept the lessons from your own challenges.


A phrase I used a lot was

Being brave isn't about not being scared or nervous. It's about feeling like that but doing it anyway.

Many children (and adults) believe that people who act differently feel differently. That they are the only ones who feel a little nervous or self conscious. Telling them that others feel that way too but decide to act may unlock a door.

However, do not tell children to ignore fear or try to force them to do something when they are really afraid. Eg the child at the top of the slide who wants to come back down the ladder. That fear may save their life in 15 or 20 years when they are afraid to get in a car with a friend who has had a few drinks. It's sometimes good to be afraid to go home to the apartment of a guy they just met in a bar, or afraid to go along with a scheme to cheat or steal being dreamed up by a colleague. Do you want them to hear you saying "Don't be such a baby! Everyone's doing it!" or "You have good judgment. You'll do this when you're ready, I'm sure."

A pleasant side effect of letting him choose what to do and when to do it is that he should freeze less and do more. If it's up to him it's less pressure.

  • +1 "A pleasant side effect of letting him choose what to do and when to do it is that he should freeze less and do more. If it's up to him it's less pressure." Well said! Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 22:12

There are some great answers here and I want to add to them by bringing up one thing that we have discovered works wonders with my son: team activities. Primarily we have used sports, but I don't see why the points I bring up can't be applied to any group or team activity (such as theatre or choir).

The confidence building benefits of a team or group activity are:

  1. They often involve a frightening situation for children - performing in front of others. However, that situation is shared among the group. They are all in it together, and it is easy to face your fears when others (especially those that are your peers) are going through the exact same thing.
  2. Team activities often provide a safe learning ground, such as practices, where the child can gain confidence prior to being required to perform in a scarier situation, such as in front of all of the parents.
  3. It allows the more shy children to play a supporting role (not everyone needs to be quarterback or the soloist) while still participating and gaining confidence.

My advice would be to start small, and build up his confidence. Praise him for being brave, and don't punish him for being shy. Make sure you don't reward him for shyness. Talk to him, ask him what bothers him about new situations and ask him how he thinks he could gain confidence. Maybe he's thought about it. You could spend a great deal of time trying different things when a 10 minute conversation would give you a lot of insight. If he doesn't want to talk to you about it maybe he'll talk to another family member.

As for activities there's no list of examples I would give, it depends on what he is confident in and what he is not. I'd start with activities which are just a bit out of his comfort zone, but have elements which he's used to. If he likes sports, do something related to the sports he plays or likes.


Children respond more to your attitude (your feelings) than you might be aware of.

Obviously, helping him gain confidence is going to be a long term process,

This isn't something you should be thinking of. You are pushing the chance it is going to be a long term process towards that outcome. Focus on the chance things change quickly for the better and have confidence.

But make sure that YOU (yourself, your ego and your drama) are not involved in deciding what is for the better. By that I mean: if this is his process of growing up (building his own confidence), and there is nothing extraordinary for a child to be shy, and your case might not be extraordinary either, and he will get there on his own, let him do this himself.

The less you are involved in the outcome, the more he did things himself, the more confidence he can have in himself, as he did it himself.

Literally, self-confidence is having confidence in yourself. If you guide him through things, you take away his chance of doing things himself. The part of him in the process lessens, and the possible self-confidence built up by him as a result lessens as well.

If he requires it to be a long term process, because he needs to decide whether he can have confidence or not, than so it is. You can only help by showing him that you are confident in things yourself, so he can use that to conclude himself, that he can have confidence in whatever it is he is going to be confident of.

  • There is a half-way point between the two extremes where you can support, brainstorm ideas, role-play, etc. and then let him go try it on his own. It is like being a spotter for a gymnast, you are there until the gymnast has the confidence not to need you to be there anymore, but the gymnast still does part, most, or all of the work to make the flip or trick happen. Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 22:10
  • @balancedmama Yes that is true, a great comment you made here. It is a nuanced topic about "what you can do for someone to help them", as sometimes it is interpreted as "how can I do it for them, to help them". Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 6:23

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