Shyness is a label, often put on children, but actually it’s just a set of reactions to a certain situation. Who has a ‘shy’ child who can act totally confident and extrovert in some situations but not others? Have you noticed that sometimes it’s more about adults not knowing how to react to our children? They might try talking them and then label them shy when they don’t respond in the way they expect.
In her Ted Talk Susan Cain explains the distinction between shyness and introversion. How shy people have anxiety around social situations, whereas introverts naturally gravitate towards being alone. She explains that there is a bias towards extroverts in our society, and that we need to redress this balance to allow introverts the downtime they need. She talks about the creative gifts that introverts have to offer the world and why they need time alone for these gifts to flourish.
Our children’s early experiences and hurts can cause shyness as Patty Wipfler explains in her article here. So while we can embrace our child’s natural tendency to be introvert we can also help with any feelings that cause shyness.
Playlistening is the perfect way to build our child’s confidence and help to release stress and anxiety around social situations. Below are 20 fun playlistening games that help our child release feelings of shyness. In playlistening your child gets to be in the more powerful role, the confident one instead of the shy one. Play these games for a long as the laughter flows and watch shyness melt away as fun and giggles take over.
- Running away – In this classic game from Patty Wipfler we pretend that we are the shy one. We can pick up our child and run away from the situation, then slowly creep round the corner and have a look, with lots of exaggerated talk about how scared you are.
- Crazy Wind – In a variation on the first game, we act shy of a social situation and then a crazy wind comes along and tries to blow us there. We take our child’s hand and ask them to hold us so we don’t blow into the scary situation, then we can fling ourselves inside with our child and complain, ”oh no! Now that crazy wind has blown us here! Lets try to get back out. I hope it doesn’t blow us in again.”
- Shy Ladybug From Hand in Hand instructor Emily Gray Murray. A friend did an awesome game with a puppet – a shy ladybug. She and her daughter would help the shy lady bug explore the play space. If her daughter wasn’t feeling ready to try something or play with someone it would be the ladybug who wasn’t ready. Then her daughter got to show the ladybug how to do it.
- Pillow Fight or Roughhousing – Hand in Hand instructor in Romania Otilia Mantelers recommends doing something physical before a social situation because physical play with laughter is a great way to release stress and anxiety. So grab your pillows for some fun pillow fighting or roughhousing. You might want to invite your child to knock you over, by saying, ”I really need to get up to go and see our friends now, I hope you don’t knock me down.” Or say, ”these pillows are stopping me from going to playgroup/school etc.”
- Silly Songs – If your child is getting nervous about going out somewhere you could try a few songs with actions as part of the getting ready process. The songs with physical movement can help your child build confidence and release feel good endorphins. For example here’s a list of silly action songs you could try with your child. Getting the moves wrong could give your child the perfect playlistening opportunity.
- Hit The Road Jack – My daughter was ill and missed her playgroup for a few weeks in January. Then she felt a bit nervous about going back. I put on the song Hit the Road Jack while we were getting ready and as the song was playing I would complain that it was making me put on my coat/scarf/hat etc, except that I would get everything wrong, I would put my daughter’s waterproof trousers on my head, my coat on backwards. I would go into the hallway complaining ”oh no! What’s this song going to make me put on next?” Then I’d keep dancing and running across the living room with new items of clothing complaining about how the song had made me put them on. I’d end up with hats on my arms and three coats on. My daughter laughed and laughed and got more connected and happy about going.
- Too scared to go in – We pretend to our child that we’re too scared to go in and invite them to push us into the room by saying, ”I really don’t want to go in there. I hope no-one pushes me in.” This game also encourages our child to release tension, by feeling physically strong and confident.
- Who are we going to see? – This came from a discussion with my daughter about going back to the UK in the summer when I was telling her about all the places we were going and all the people we were going to see. My daughter told me, ”that’s too many people, and that’s too many places!” so I began to make up more places we were going. I’d say we were going to Spiffleland to see Oogalog and Bifflebosh, and Snookokland to see Bigabob and Hoodlebip. My daughter was in fits of giggles. This one might be good to try on the way to a new friends house or social engagement. We ask our child. ”Now, hmmm, who are we going to see?” I remember, it’s Kittlecop in riffraff land, is that right?” Then when our child corrects us we can say ”oh okay, I think I’ve got it now, it’s Miffmop who lives in Skinapland, is that right?” Our child will grow in confidence as they correct our mistake.
- Who’s Calling on The Phone? – Your phone rings, and you pretend to answer a real call. Act all shy and scared that someone you don’t know is on the phone. Say ”oh dear, it’s loola, oh I don’t know anyone called Loola, goodbye!” And ‘hang up’ the phone. Repeat with different made-up names.
- Who’s Emailing Or Messaging? You could also play a similar game with receiving text messages, or emails, telling your child, ”I’ve just got a message from someone called Jigjog. Jigjog? I don’t know anyone called Jigjog. I’m going to delete this message right now, goodbye!” Or when you are writing out an email, say, I’m just going to write an email to ”bumbum,” and then catch yourself, ”oh bumbum! I don’t want to write to bumbum! I need to delete this right now.”
- Hands over eyes – From Otilia Mantelers. If you are in the middle of a social situation and your child feels shy about joining in then try this. Put both hands over your eyes and tell your child that you don’t want to look. Encourage your child to pull your hands away by saying, ”I hope you don’t pull my fingers away. I really don’t want to see anything!”
- Are they here now? – The following two games can help with shyness, or that kind of half-excited half nervous feeling that arises when we are expecting guests. They are lots of fun even if your child is rarely shy. Tell your child you thought you heard a knock and go and answer the door. Then say ”oh nobody’s there. Lets just look a little further.” Go outside on the front door step/garden/hallway, and tell your child you just need to take a look, and then walk along for a bit looking for them, then suddenly act all shy and say quick, lets run inside, they might be coming and see us!”
- Someone’s Knocking On The Door song – This morning we were just getting ready for our friend John who was coming to stay. I began making up a silly song, that went like this, ”someone’s knowing on the door now, is it John knowing on the door now?” Then I’d run to the door and open it and nobody would be there. My daughter would laugh and think how silly I was then.”Then I began singing, ”Someone’s knowing on the fridge now, is it John’s knocking on the fridge now?” and I’d open the fridge door. Then I’d sing that ”somebody’s knocking on the balcony door, John must have jumped off a cloud and landed on our balcony.” I repeated it with cupboard doors, the oven, dishwasher, freezer. My daughter found this very funny. You might even be able to try it without singing!
- Wild Teddy – We went on holiday recently with a wild teddy. The ‘wild’ teddy would do things like try to go up to the ticket collector on the train to get his own ticket, or try to check in at the hotel, or order drinks in a cafe. My daughter had a lot of fun chasing wild teddy to stop him from taking over and doing things for himself. This is a fun game to release tension if your child feels edgy around strangers who might interact with your child. Perhaps wild teddy can say, ”I’m just going to talk to the lady at the check in desk.” You can act all flustered and say, ”Oh no wild teddy! You can’t talk to her,” and then you can involve your child in chasing after him to stop him. This can release some of the tension and embarrassment that occurs when strangers try to interact with your child.
- Wild Imaginary Friend – You can try a similar thing with your child by inventing a ‘wild imaginary friend.’ This gives you lots of scope and freedom as the wild imaginary friend can do pretty much anything. So perhaps the wild imaginary friend starts dancing at a playgroup or goes into a shop and tries to buy a new pair of shoes. You can have lots of fun and giggles chasing the imaginary friend and getting them to stop, and be more ‘sensible.’ This can help your child relax and feel safe to step out of their comfort zone.
I hope you find this list useful. For many of us parents using fun games in social situations can be a little nerve-wracking, especially if we’re on the shy side too. Listening time can help us talk about what makes it hard, and our own chilldhood experiences of being shy. Then we can grow in confidence together with our children. If you’d like to share how you get on with these games I’d love to hear from you!
For more playful solutions to family challenges check out my Giggle Parenting Archives.
Playful Parenting by Dr. Lawrence Cohen is also packed full of ways to transform our parenting with laughter.