Is junior shy around strangers? Teach them to open up to people with these top tips.

Nothing breaks a parent’s heart more than to hear their child confess, with tears in their eyes, that they had been snubbed from an activity, conversation or worse, by their BFF.

The mama or papa bear in us wants to rush to our peewee’s aid ― we might even have to resist the urge to rough up the kid who ignored our awesome child. However, this is not going to help junior in the long run.

Social and behavioural therapist Katy Harris says that when she hears a child complain about feeling left out, the backstory usually involves the child being quite passive. Sometimes, he or she may have tried to gain entry using less popular methods, such showing off, barging in or hovering.

“It can be very hard to know the right place to stand, how to look interested, how to find a pause to join the conversation,” Harris notes. “Some kids haven’t yet learnt this but these are skills you can practise at home.”

“Parents can encourage their children to do this more by focusing on what it takes to interrupt well, rather than just say ‘don't interrupt’.”

By the way, not all adults are pros at this either, they are just better at covering it up, unlike innocent kids who show their emotions openly, Harris adds. An introvert and an extrovert will also handle social settings differently.

“Our temperament influences how we see and file the world and how much we feel comfortable giving out and how much we need to hold back,” she points outs. This is usually determined by our early environment ― sibling and parental attitudes or culture ― all affect how much we trust strangers.

If you feel like your little fella should learn how to feel more comfortable among strangers, or if their introvert nature stops them from being accepted within their social circle, here are ways you can help them.

#1 Teach them how to “interrupt” a conversation

The easiest way to gain entry into a social circle or even to strike up a conversation with someone is to figure out the right moment to jump in. This can be done during playdates with friends or cousins or with sibling interaction. “Parents can encourage their children to do this more by focusing on what it takes to interrupt well, rather than just say ‘don't interrupt’,” says Harris. In other words, teach junior how to find a pause to join in a conversation instead of waiting for someone to invite them into one or just barging in uninvited.

#2 Explain that they may have been left out accidentally

As parents, we excuse a child’s bad behaviour as just being a kid, and not because they are necessarily being mean. However, kids don’t always get that. They might feel like they are automatically being excluded if they are not part of an activity or conversation, then.

“At home, it might be worthwhile for children to understand that if mum is talking to the brother, the sister isn’t ‘less’ included,” Harris says. “It’s just that, for some natural reason, the priority arose to talk with the boy.” It’s also a good idea to teach your child to look out for visual clues, she adds. For example, how intensely engaged people are and how intricate the conversation is, to what the level of emotion is.

“It will help them see the reasons why that others are ‘locked in’ and they may feel locked out, but it isn’t personal, it is part of the intensity of engagement,” Harris explains.

#3 Remind them to pick their company wisely

In terms of human behaviour, we pick the people we want to socialise with according to what we are looking for in the conversation. “If we are looking to be comfortable, we would choose someone who makes eye contact and has a pleasant, open face, but if we are seeking intellect, we might choose a serious looking person,” notes Harris.

When it comes to little ones, Harris points out that children usually target the popular kids. However, these are the ones who have the least tolerance for newcomers. “Whereas if they look around for someone who might need a friend, their entry might be more successful,” she adds.

Research suggests the more screen time a child has, the less they are able to read bodily cues or take a risk of making eye contact with someone.

#4 Encourage them to disconnect with gadgets and connect more with people

“Oh, this is a big one in our world today!” Harris notes. Research suggests the more screen time a child has, the less they are able to read bodily cues or take the risk of making eye contact with someone. “Keeping this skill alive is vital to creating connections and relationships, which are needed for learning, work, romance and life,” she adds.

#5 Praise their behaviour when you see them trying

It is good to acknowledge when children take note of others’ comfort level and try to include them or themselves. This is a “kindness skill” that is much valued in friendships and genuinely boosts popularity” Harris explains. Showing genuine interest in someone else, especially a stranger, is widely is part of being a charismatic person.

#6 Be a model for inclusivity

As a parent, you may feel the need to talk about stranger danger in order to keep your children safe. However, Harris advises, “There’s also a need to talk about trust and building it and we can only do that when you stretch beyond your comfort zone.”

The best way to do this is to model it yourself. When you’re at gatherings and parties, show a genuine attempt to reach out to someone who might be feeling left out or is sitting alone in a corner. When junior sees you doing so, they will know they don’t always have to ignore strangers and the more they put themselves out there and talk to new people, the more they can manage this task.

Photos: iStock

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