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My husband and I are in our early thirties and have no children. I don't really have much experience with kids. I am happy to talk to them but have never had any of my own so don't feel super comfortable around them.

We know the neighbours, have visited with them before, but are mostly on acquaintance-level familiarity. When we've been over to visit, their kids have been painfully shy (which isn't too surprising). I decided it was just because they didn't know us and thought it'd take time and they'd be fine. They're a boy and girl, both ages 7/8 ish.

Occasionally, they'll hit a ball over the wall into our yard and come over and ask to get it back. And even now, they seem really unsure of me. Almost scared. They'll run in, grab it and run out as fast as possible. We've visited with their parents a couple of times and they've always been really painfully shy. It's been 18 or so months now and it's still the same.

Now naturally, they have their lives and it's not really any of my business. My husband and I are happy to just leave them be. But I don't want to be the scary neighbour that they're too afraid to talk to. Is there anything I can do to be less scary? Or should I not even try?

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    Sounds like kids being kids. I know a lot of kids that are shy. Even my best friends kids are shy with me and I have my own who can be shy at times. – Bugs Mar 20 '17 at 13:30
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I think that as you can't know what the parents have taught their kids about 'stranger danger', you should just keep to being kind and friendly when you see the kids. They will either grow out of it or not.

I'd address it with the parents directly. Just say that the kids seem shy and that they have no reason to be afraid, you like them and they seem like great kids. I am sure you don't want them playing in your yard, but perhaps say they don't need permission to come and get a toy, when or if that is necessary.

I am not suggesting a relationship of any kind -- just granting permission to get a toy without ringing the bell.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion and these have started to get way off topic; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Acire Mar 21 '17 at 11:15
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I'd take a different approach. I'm a parent of a 5yo girl and 1yo boy. I see how my daughter responds to my friends (they're over 30 as well, some without kids), colleagues and family. She would often curl up to me and say with a shy voice and just barely loud enough for the other person to hear this: "Daddy, I'm afraid of this man.". She'll say this while gently smiling. Other times she'd wander of with people (that I trust, of course!) to play / look at things, etc. She remembers them and builds a noticeable bond with some.

There's no underlying trait of people from both sides of the success spectrum aside from their behaviour. So here are my steps to success:

  • Don't push it. Some people try to force a good relationship upon the child. They'll try to touch them, talk directly to them (e.g. "Hey [name], how are you doing?", "Oh how big you are."). Those are good intentions, but misguided and will misfire. You're not their friend yet.
  • Bribery. This is the easiest thing to get you started. My daughter for example adored Kinder Surprise (a small chocolate candy with a small toy inside it). Using it was super easy. You could just say something like "Hey [name], I have a surprise for you." She didn't want to talk to them, but the temptation is strong: "What is it?" It's instant points and a level-up in her social scale.
  • Compliment / discuss / ask about her things, not her. "Wow what a pretty dress you have on" or something similar will get you further as she wants to talk about it, but she's protective about herself.
  • As any relationship, you take it slow and nurture it. My friend, when he came to visit, always took some time spend / talk to her. Even if just for a minute. Similarly, our neighbour always has some sweets to share and prune schnapps, though the latter is for the father. Once he does, he can then show her the animals over at her place, walk on their lawn, etc.
  • Be cool. You're not their parent and can use this to your advantage. You can encourage slightly (!) mischievous behaviour (use common sense here, each parent has a different idea of boundaries), e.g. an extra candy. I'm totally okay with this when others do it, you get used to other people and grandparents allowing more. Have fun with them, talk to them about their stuff at school as if you're 8yo as well.

Let me know how it goes.

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    These are good point for gaining trust from a child for a friend of the parents. It seems that stanri is not particularly friendly with the parents. Getting the kids to take gifts or enter even the lightest of conversation may be tricky, and possibly frowned on by the kids' parents. – user26011 Mar 21 '17 at 19:16
  • Warning: many children have various kinds of food intolerance, as well as allergies (quite popular: to milk and/or chocolate among them) Before you offer any candies to children, esp. chocolate-based, ask their parents. – CiaPan Mar 22 '17 at 10:20
  • Not only is 'offering candy to kids' on the stranger danger list, both other comments point out that you need parental permission first. Kinder Surprise (chocolate egg containing small toy) is not legal in the USA. I grew up with them in Canada and had some confiscated by US Customs when I was bringing them back with me from a visit. So that example includes a small toy -- and that's another thing you can't give kids without parental permission. – WRX Mar 22 '17 at 20:22

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