Dear Bracha,

Both my husband and I are more on the introverted side. We have two children, aged 6 and 3, and I am noticing that they too shy away from social interactions and prefer to play by themselves. Is there anything that I can do now, when my children are young, to help them feel more at ease in group situations?


Yes!! Absolutely! You have hit on a point that slides under the radar for most parents who have introverted children. It is true that being introverted is partly genetic, but a lot of our ability in the area of social skills is learned, and learned very young!

The best thing you can do for your children is be very active at having children over for them to play with and getting them over to friends' houses. Try to do this several times a week. You will quickly note who they are comfortable interacting with—and this is your goal, as those children that they "parallel" play with are not teaching them the skills they need.

In Ethics of our Fathers we are instructed: "Acquire for yourself a good friend." Our friends have great influence on us and this fact can greatly help your children in learning by observing and doing. The younger they start interacting with their peers, the more skills and confidence they will gain. Hopefully this will lead to an increased comfort with others and more success in making friends!

Often, concerned parents ask for specific ideas that they can do—from role playing to particular games—that may be helpful for their introverted children. Thought these are well intentioned strategies, these methods take up precious resources of parents' limited time with very poor results. Your children are far better off with actual practice with their peers, in a safe setting in which they feel secure, such as your home or a friend's house that they are comfortable in.

However, if there is a "bump" in the road, parents are very instrumental in supporting children during these tough times. One of the most powerful ways to help your child deal with his or her emotions is to relate a similar real life situation that you went through. But remember to relate how you felt without globalizing or projecting your feelings on to your child, such as by saying, "everyone who goes through this feels..." or "I'm sure you also feel…" Try to end your story on an up-beat note, leaving your child with a positive and encouraging outlook regarding this experience.

In my experience, shy children are often more aware of the emotional sensitivity of others and feel these emotions more readily themselves. In the context of socializing, they may have more difficulties, but their sensitive nature has a tendency to help them become caring, mature adults.

Wishing you and your family all the best!