How To Help Shy Children Step Outside Comfort Zone

How Can I Help My Shy Child Make New Friends?

My child says it is too hard to play with new kids.  Aren’t we supposed to step outside our comfort zone? 

The first thing I suggest is to ask your child what makes this hard? Why does she avoid trying new things and joining in? The beauty of asking questions is that it allows the child to identify – for themselves – why this is the case and what lies outside their comfort zone. Your child may truly not know what to do or how to  join in.

Identify Something Each of You Can Work On

Make a pact with your child to each step outside your comfort zones and try something new.  Work on something hard for you and your child will work on this. Let her pick any activity, group or sport that she can just show up to. Introduce the concept of the comfort zone tool.

We all know how it feels to tackle something outside our comfort zone—all the more when it’s something hard for us.  (Read more about Comfort Zone on pages 147-149 in Why Will No One Play With Me?)

Comfort Zone

This exercise is a low-stress way to engage the child who is struggling to keep an open mind or start the process.  If your child has trouble with change, shows less buy-in than you wish or who says there is no problem, this can be invaluable.

Outside Comfort Zone Exercise

  1. Explain what it means when something is “outside your comfort zone” – What is our “comfort zone”?  Use examples from your own daily life. What things do you do easily every day? What things push you toward the edge of your comfort zone or clearly outside it? For example, I was nervous to learn to ski. It felt uncomfortable at first. You can prompt your child by asking questions about this idea of being uncomfortable and stretching to get beyond it. “Remember when you went to a new soccer team and felt like you wanted to stay with the old one?” Explain that in order to change and grow, we all must be willing to lean into discomfort and engage in the process.
  2. Outside comfort zone circle – On a piece of paper, have your child draw a large circle to represent his comfort zone. Leave a margin around the circle—that’s going to be the space for things outside his comfort zone. Ask him to jot outside the circle some things that are outside his comfort zone. Let your child tell you what those are.
  3. Inside comfort zone circle – Ask him to jot inside it things he does that are inside his comfort zone. These might include joining in with younger kids, staying out of the lunchroom, sitting only with one safe friend, things he loves like Legos, going to grandparents’ house, the after school program he prefers, eating favorite foods, playing with the same people or in the same place.
  4. Inside or Out? If your child hasn’t already named specific social expectations or situations, then ask, “Would _____ be inside your comfort zone or outside your comfort zone?”

Modeling is the Best Coaching Tool

I encourage you to push yourself into unfamiliar places. Modeling to your child that you are willing to do things that you wouldn’t normally do is the best way to coach them to do the same.

DO This At Home!

For scripts, tools, advice and actionable exercises on helping children develop social skills, check out Why Will No One Play with Me?

Deeper Dive:

What if my child won’t discuss getting help for social skills?

5 Ways to Maintain Your Child’s Social Skills During COVID

About Caroline Maguire

Caroline Maguire, M. Ed., earned her undergraduate degree at Trinity College and her Masters of Education and Early Childhood Development at Lesley University with a specialization in social emotional learning (SEL).

Caroline is the author of the award winning book, Why Will No One Play With Me?, a playbook of foolproof scripts on how to build social skills.

She created a comprehensive Social Emotional Learning (SEL) training methodology for adults, parents, clinicians and academic professionals. She is the founder and director of The Fundamentals of ADHD Coaching for Families training curriculum at  ADD Coach Academy (ADDCA) – the only Coach Training program accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Ms. Maguire is a sought-after lecturer and workshop facilitator on various topics related to social, emotional and behavioral learning. She is a permanent columnist on social skills in CHADD’s Attention Magazine, a favored contributor to U.S. News & World Report, Mind Body Green, Salon, Huffington Post, Today Parenting, ADDitude and WebMD.

Download her free video “How to Tell a Tighter Story,” for advice on how to curb rambling.

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