How to help shy child to be confident?
02:47 | 01/12/2013


I took my 16-month-old to Gymboree preview class. I really like Gymboree’s learning environment which is full of safe learning equipment, professional teachers, and great activities for children’s interaction. However, while other children in my class were running around and exploring happily, my son seemed to be very shy, didn’t have confidence to do things on his own, and was clingy to me. Should I quit or should I continue to enroll the classes, what do I do?


We’re glad that you asked this question, and this’s frequently asked after reviewed class. In fact, children approach and react differently. We call this temperament. Some children are very flexible, and eagerly approach new situations, while others tend to get overwhelmed when faced with lots of noise, activities, and new people. One temperament is not better than another-just different. In your case, our son has “told” you through his behavior that he finds the class experience difficult and you have done a great job reading his signals. Now, how you respond is the crucial next step. While it is hard to see your child struggle or feel anxious, and one natural temptation would be to quit the class, and this may not be the most useful choice for either you or your son. As your son grows, he will face many situations that require interacting and getting along with others. These classes provide a great opportunity to help your child learn to cope with, adapt to, and ultimately find pleasure in new relationships and experiences.


Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Between meetings, plan some one-on-one time with another member in the group who is easygoing and won’t overwhelm him.
  • Arrive at the group/class early to give your child a chance to explore the environment without a lot of other children around. Sit down and play a little, just you and him.
  • Once playgroup gets going, follow your child’s lead and read his signals. If he clings to you, comfort and reassure him. Pick him up and walk around the room. Rather than thrusting him into situations, take things at his speed, explore the toys and talk about what the other children are doing in an upbeat tone that lets him know that this is a good place.
  • When your child is getting overwhelmed or distressed, take a walk or go to a quiet room.
  • Set up your toys next to another child, encouraging the “side by side” play that is so common for toddlers.
  • When you think your child is ready, invite another child and parent to join your play. (Keep in mind it is very common for toddlers to play next to each other—called parallel play—instead of with each other.)


Through small steps like these over several weeks, your son will eventually feel comfortable and secure. "Gymboree's 'follow the lead of the child approach' help young children learn 'how to learn' and support them in becoming confident, lifelong learners".

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    - Harvey Karp, MD, FAAP, Professor of Pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine, author: The Happiest Baby on the Block

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