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My daughter is extremely shy and anxious around strangers. How can I help her?

Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP


​Not all of us are extroverts, and the same goes for children. Some are more comfortable around strangers than others. Some shy children do "grow out of it" and become more social; others continue to prefer to stay out of the spotlight—and in familiar territory.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Role-model confident social behavior. Children learn by watching the people around them. Parents, that means you! With time, your ability to approach others and put them at ease can help to put your child at ease, too.

  • Encourage your child to take small social "baby steps" like saying "hi" to a neighbor or joining in a game for a few minutes. Try role-playing ahead of time to practice what she might say or do.

  • Look for activities your child is interested in. Is your child athletic? Artistic? Neat and organized? Loves books? Good at building things? What holds her attention? What is least likely to discourage her? Find activities that take advantage of those strengths and sign her up. Sometimes the shared interest is just what shy children need to start conversations and relationships.

  • Give your child lots of praise and kudos for any accomplishment—even "baby steps" can be hard! 

​When to Seek Help:

If things don't seem to be getting better—particularly if your child gets very upset by any encounters with strangers or any time away from you, or seems sad or anxious—check in with your child's pediatrician for advice.

Additional Information from

Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP

Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, a senior editor for Harvard Health Publications, and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She writes about health and parenting for the Harvard Health Blog, Huffington Post and many other online and print publications.  

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The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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