What to do for extreme shyness?

User - posted on 06/20/2011 ( 2 moms have responded )

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My 20 month old daughter has always had stranger/separation anxiety since she was 8 months old. She recently had tubes put in her ears due to constant ear infections. She is better now, however, her stranger anxiety has gotten worse to a point where if we are in a public place, she starts hyperventilating as she buries her head into my husband's or my shoulder. As she hyperventilates, she gets flushed and hot and will not lift up her head if she is out in public. The only person she goes to is me and my husband. She won't even go to my mom who took care of her the first year of her life. When we go to kid's birthday parties, she doesn't want to play with the other kids and run around. She'd rather be carried hiding her face the whole time and not once will she want to be put down. It's very frustrating!!! At first, I thought it was maybe now she can hear clearly after the surgery, but she's comfortable at home with loud noise. I just wanted to know if this is normal for toddlers or have you experienced this extreme shyness/stranger anxiety with your child, especially with the physical burying of the head and hyperventilating. I understand she will outgrow this, but she has had this for a year now and has gotten worse instead of getting better as she is getting older. Please help! Any tips, advice, or recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

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Celeste-sa - posted on 07/01/2011

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Hi Carolie,



My daughter- almost 17 months old, started with stranger anxiety at the age of 3 months. Her doctor even labelled it quite severe and unusual for that age, as it normally only starts from 8/9 months. She would scream constantly if we were at anyone elses house, or if someone came too close to her in public, or even visiting us in our own home. At one point only my husband and I were allowed to go near her, even though she had always been comfortable with my mother.

Thankfully she started to outgrow it somewhat around the 10 month mark, although she is still quite cautious and shy sometimes with people she doesnt see regularly.

What I have realised with her, esp when she was still in the very intense phase of her anxiety, was to arrive calmly, and stand back for a while to allow her time to scan her surroundings and she always ended up giving me the cue as to when I could move in closer. We always arrived and still do, early at parties/gatherings and stand aside with her to allow her time to get used to her new surroundings. We also tell people to 'ignore' (for want of a better word) her and not approach her, until she eases up and is ready to move closer or even approach them if she wants to- although she still never gets too close to some people. Friends and family have become very good with her and understanding her needs. This has helped her adjustment immensely (pls dont let anyone tell you to ignore it and let her just get on with it till she gets over it-she needs time, comfort and gentle encouragement. Try as hard as you can not to show any frustration, only understanding and comfort, as I learned the hard way, and it got worse before better. She may need a few occasions of 'practice' and it will take time. My Lo we discovered, was as much afraid of the new 'place' as of the new 'faces' so we always take her on a mini 'tour' around the persons home where we are visiting when we arrive (this has really worked well for us), or we stay in the less crowded parts of shopping centres/ fairs etc until she settles, and will then very gradually work our way to more crowded areas. We also distract her and show excitement towards things we see, and always smile at her to show that we are comfortable. If she doesnt want to be near someone or something, or doesnt show that she is happy for someone else to pick her up/ have her sit by them, then we respect that and move away until she is comfortable and then try again.

It really is very hard, and very limiting, but I was exactly the same way as a toddler until about 2 yrs, and calmed down soon enough, just by my mother and father allowing me time to settle in to new surroundings. One other thing that was a huge help for us and my Lo, was joining a small mom and toddler music group. My Lo was very shy to begin with, and always at the beginning of every class, but after a few short weeks, she started to warm up to the idea, and slowly became more independent and adventurous. But the smaller groups are the ones to stick with. She still has her days, but through working with her and being as patient as we can (has become so much easier and 2nd nature now) she is doing so much better.

I hope you find something helpful here, and all the best to you all :)

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Mandy - posted on 07/03/2011

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My 3yo was like this. When we would go anywhere to friends or family gatherings, she would only go to my husband or I. She has just recently changed and will now go to other family members. We also go to playgroups and she would only sit in my lap. What I have done is to invite one of her friends over and have small playdates. She does go to a church nursery every week and she usually finds an adult she can cling too. She does much better now. I believe the key age is 3 when they grow out of this.

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