Every parent wants their child to make friends, and the idea that they might have difficulty doing so is a worrying prospect for anyone. For some children, they were simply born to be the life of the party, bursting into rooms and enthusiastically approaching the first kid they see. Others are much more quiet & reserved, waiting to be approached or clinging to their parents. But when does shy become too shy?
Under 3 Years
When it comes to social development, the first 3 years of our lives offer a little preview as to where we will fall on the outgoing scale. It’s perfectly normal for children in this age group to be wary of or initially reject new playmates, so don’t be worried if your child needs a period to warm-up to people. That being said, children will typically come around to a new friend relatively quickly, and should be able to play near, and then with, other children without kicking up too much of a fuss. If adding new children to play time consistently means that playtime is over, your child may be having difficulty adjusting to new social situations.
Another sign that a child is uninterested in social interactions is focusing far more on the toys than the people playing with the toys. Take a toy from your child, and move it around in the air with your hand. Does your child focus exclusively on the toy, or does their attention go back and forth between you and the toy? A child who looks at both is engaging in a social situation, while a child who is focused on the toy may be more interested in their own desires. Does your child respond to their name when called? While ignoring it a few times is normal, a total lack of acknowledgment could signal that the child is not engaging socially.
By the time a child reaches pre-school age, the amount of social interactions they will experience will increase dramatically. As they spend increasing amounts of time with other kids, in pre-school, on playdates, at the playground etc, you will, like all parents, start to compare them to the other children. For the most part, this is a fruitless endeavour that will only worry parents unnecessarily. The important thing is not to let these comparisons blind your judgment, or influence how you speak about your child.
It’s perfectly natural to want to ask childminders or other parents if they think certain behaviour is normal, but you should steer clear of doing this. You could implant ideas in people’s heads, and alter their perception, or they could answer without really understanding or considering the full breadth of child development. The best way to get insight from others is to ask open questions. Were they well-behaved? Did they play nice? Other parents and professionals can see things in a much more impartial way, so if people who spend extensive amounts of time with your child are not seeing any red flags, it could mean you are worrying too much.
By the age of 6 or 7, your child should be at a stage where they can articulate their feelings about social interactions. This is when it will begin to become clear whether or not there is an underlying issue, or if a child is just on the shy side. If your child is reluctant to engage with other kids, ask them why. For example, a child may say that they simply think the other kids are mean, and while you don’t want your child to be bullied, this implies that the desire to be with others is there. Exposing them to different relatives, friends, Montessori’s etc could be the answer in a situation like this. If, however, your child’s response indicates that they do not desire to be with others, but would prefer to be left alone, it could be a sign of a deeper issue.
We all know that worrying about your child is something almost all parents do too much of from time to time. But that worry is there to protect them, and help them thrive. If after reading this blog, you still have concerns about your child’s level of social interaction, you should take them to be evaluated. The end result will either be peace of mind, or the ability to identify and address any issues that may be there as soon as possible. The idea that your child may be diagnosed with anything can be daunting, but regardless of the outcome, an evaluation may be the best thing you can do to help them become everything they can be.