How Teachers Can Make Shy Preschoolers Comfortable

How Teachers Can Make Shy Preschoolers Comfortable

Nov 14th 2016

Preschool Curriculum

As a preschool teacher, you'd like all your charges fully engaged in play, having fun. However, timid children can be reluctant to speak or join others. You can help your shy little flowers bloom! Here's how to encourage wary children, so they're comfortable attending school.


Before working with a child, it's helpful to understand the cause of their reserved behavior. For most, fear is responsible. Many children are born with this trait as a natural aspect of their personality. A rare few prefer solitude.

Dr. Bernardo Carducci, author of The Shyness Breakthrough, advises that change can intensify bashfulness. 1/ Preschool dramatically expands a child's world. Even confident kids can shrink back from the unfamiliar.

Distinguishing the causes of shyness prepares you to act effectively. With the anxious child, proceed cautiously, to avoid increasing apprehension. For the loner, try to make socializing highly rewarding. If a parent says their kid's shyness is atypical, allow them time to adjust.


1. Set progressive goals.

Research supports goal setting to encourage involvement. 2/ A starting point for a shy youngster is to say at least one word to another person daily. To advance communication, see if they'll answer a question. You can further upgrade speaking with participation in "Show and Tell."

For a tyke who won't talk, arrange for them to play silently with another child. Next, find out their favorite school toy and produce it upon request. A sequential milestone could be conveying their favorite TV show. Building on this topic, ask them to describe the episode they liked most.

Note - Only advance to the next goal after a child is fluent in the current one.

2. Read books to your class, based on characters who surmounted shyness.

After reading a story, explain its message to your class. Alternatively, ask your students what they learned from the story. Here are some books teaching the benefits of making friends:

  • See You Later Mum, by Jennifer Northway
  • Say Hello, by Jack Foreman
  • Frank and Teddy Make Friends, by Louise Yates
  • Gretchen Groundhog, It's Your Day, by Abby Levine
  • Buster the Very Shy Dog, by Lisze Bechtold
  • Shaun The Shy Shark, by Neil Griffiths
  • Speak Up, Blanche! by Emily Arnold McCully
  • Chatterbox Jamie, by Nancy Evens Cooney

3. Pair children together.

Ask two youngsters to hold hands when leaving the classroom for another purpose, such as playing a game.

Assign two kids to a quiet task. Assembling a puzzle is one example. Pattern sorting is another. You'll need a muffin tin or egg crate and small items to sort, such as various sizes of buttons, marbles, coins, or dried beans. Have the children sit together, sorting objects by size, type, number, or color.

Involve two or three kids in a group game. Copy-dancing can entice reserved children to participate. One child dances while the others mimic their moves. Put on familiar music, and have a natural-born leader start the show. "Simon Says" is another version of this game.

For additional small-group activities, click here.

4. Spark interaction.

Prompt one child to engage with another by giving them the words to speak. For example, "Madison, let's ask this girl, 'What's your name?'." Another tactic is having a confident child invite a shy kid to play with them. "Liam, how about asking Michael to join you in Lego?"

You can also set the stage for a specific response. "Samantha, I see you're playing nurse. Jennifer would make a great patient. Jennifer, tell Samantha where you're pretend hurting."

If a timid child won't speak at all, encourage nonverbal communication. "Tara, can you wave 'hello' to Isabella?"

5. Praise another child's outgoing actions in the presence of the shy one.

This strategy is based on the principle of "vicarious reward." 3/ In this context, you're making it desirable for the child to duplicate the behavior and likewise receive your praise. In front of the reserved child, you might say to another, "Emma, thank you for showing Abigail where we keep the crayons. That was very helpful to me." Another example is, "Ethan, thank you for showing Noah where the bathroom is. I like when children help each other."

6. Reward friendly behaviors.

Whenever a child shows signs of emerging from their shell, praise them. Start low on the reward scale, and gradually increase the requirement for earning a compliment. For example, applaud a child who shares a toy when requested. When a child initiates conversation, grant a privilege, such as holding a prized toy. When they become highly involved in sharing or play, give them a sticker or star.


1. Avoid labeling a child as "shy."

By characterizing a child as having a specific trait, you risk causing them to think they will always be so. The label further reinforces the behavior. The child will then perpetuate it. 4/

If you need to report a child's behavior to their parent, use descriptive words rather than "shy." For example, you might say, "Mason didn't speak with anyone today, even when others tried to talk with him."

2. Don't push a child into doing something they fear.

Being forceful backfires. The youngster may become agitated or even more terrified.


1. Show understanding.

You can empathize with a child's hesitation by acknowledging it and offering encouragement. You might share that you've felt the same way in certain situations, and give an example. Identifying with children strengthens them, empowering them to move beyond their comfort zones.

Psychologist Dr. John Malouff explains how he helped his shy 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth. One time when she feared her first swimming lesson, dad revealed that when he was a boy, he had also. Her immediate reply was, "I'll be brave." Then she boldly strode up to the pool! 5/

2. Offer warmth.

Speak gently, compliment their abilities, and hug them. Show enthusiastic interest in what they like and do.

3. Track a child's progress with a daily record.

Improvement becomes more evident with regular documentation. Additionally, you'll have a success story you can apply to other shy kids.

4. Update parents on breakthroughs.

Ask them to praise a particular behavior at home and award a sticker or star on a chart.

5. Be patient.

It can take weeks for a child to overcome timidity. Meanwhile, avoid speaking or acting for them in your aim to complete an activity. If a child doesn't respond after several seconds, cheerfully move on to the next activity or child.


To melt inhibition in shy children:

  • Set progressive goals.
  • Read books to your class, based on characters who surmounted shyness.
  • Pair children together.
  • Spark interaction.
  • Praise another child's outgoing actions in the presence of the shy one.
  • Reward friendly behaviors.


You have a vital role in helping youngsters develop their potential. The formative years are when a child's personality, intelligence, and social behavior emerge. This critical period spans birth through five years of age. 6/

By fully supporting a child in overcoming shyness, you pave the way to future achievement. How fortunate we are for caring people like you, skillfully shaping the lives of our young ones!