How to get shy or withdrawn children involved in the classroom experience

In the Bam Radio Show titled, “Teaching and Caring for Shy, Socially Sensitive  Children” some terrific points were made about integrating shy children into the classroom experience.  Below I will highlight some of the points that were made and a few of my own observations but let me also encourage you to hop over to Bam Radio and take a listen to this very interesting and informative conversation….

Rae Pica with Dr. Jacquelyn Mize, Dean Marjorie Kostelnik, Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed.


Temperament and Skill

First, it is good to understand why a child might be considered shy.  Our experts highlighted two sources of shyness to consider…

  1. The child might have a temperament that is naturally geared towards being shy or withdrawn.
  2. The child might lack the necessary skills to confidently engage with others.
Where the teacher begins

Whether a child is naturally shy or lacks the necessary skills to interact with his or her peers, the first thing a teacher should do is to take extra time to really get to know the child.  The teacher must spend time building a rapport with the child so that the teacher will know how best to help the child become involved in the classroom experience. There are a couple of ways our experts indicate that a teacher can positively spend time getting to know the child…

  1. Talk with the child about what he or she is doing. For example: “I see you are playing with the red blocks.” or “I noticed you are drawing with a blue crayon.”
  2. Parallel play with the child. If the child is playing with the red blocks, then join in and play with another set of blocks next to the child. If the child is building a tall tower, the teacher can build a tall tower too. As the teacher builds along side the child, the teacher can continue to hold a simple conversation about what they are both doing.

How to get the child involved in the classroom

According the experts there are several strategies one can take to help a shy child get involved in group activities.

  1. Give the child a specific job or task to do within the group activity like holding the ball in a game or passing out the cups at snack time.
  2. Where possible, recruit other children who are sensitive to the needs of others and invite them to interact with the shy child. It will most likely be necessary to give the “helping children” the words to say or a specific task to do with the shy child.
  3. Start children on parallel play.  For example if a group is building blocks, have the child also build with blocks in the same area.  As the children build, you can connect their play through your words by saying something like “Look, you have built a tower… Johnny is building a tower too… I wonder if we could build a road to connect the two towers?”

What should you not do

  • According to our experts One of the worst strategies you can try is to teach the shy child to walk up to a group of children and say, “Can I play?” because the chances are the other children will say “no.”  Instead, invite the child to participate in parallel play along side of the other children and then use your words to connect the play together – such as described in the example above.
  • Don’t force the child to do get involved. Instead, implement strategies, like those that have been shared today, that will make it easier for the child to be engaged.
  • Don’t project your expectations onto the shy child. In other words, if you ask the child a question don’t sit and wait or expect a certain response. The more you project your expectations on the child, the more self-aware the child becomes and the more withdrawn the child may become.
Deborah’s Tips
  • Although I have used the commonly known term “shy” in this post, it is important not to label a child as being shy. Instead, look for other positive attributes the child has and choose to define the child by those attributes instead. For example, instead of saying, “She didn’t want to answer because she is a little shy,” you might say, “She is thinking about her answer right now and perhaps she will share her thoughts with us later.”  Or instead of saying, “He doesn’t like to play this game because he is shy,” you might say, “He is a wonderful observer of the other children at play.”
  • Offer up opportunities to talk about the child’s home and other topics the child is most comfortable with. For example, in my classroom we introduced the “Star of the Week” project to our class. Even the most “shy” child loved sharing his or her family posters with the other children…


The experts go on to discuss how to teach shy children to express their feelings or how to deal with aggressive children. I also share more in the radio show so I invite you to head over to Bam Radio to hear more on this topic!

Links to grow on

She’s Not Shy, She’s Thoughtful” by Teacher Tom

By |2012-05-15T07:00:39+00:00May 15th, 2012|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Deborah McNelis May 15, 2012 at 8:39 am - Reply


    This is a very valuable post! There are numerous beneficial points made.
    The comments about not “labeling” the child are ones I see as especially important. The example you provided to use instead, is excellent in my opinion. I feel very strongly about not categorizing or labeling children. Not one of us can be fully defined by labels!

    Thank you,
    Brain Insights

  2. andiejaye May 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    some good tips in here. especially the avoidance of labeling a child as shy. i think sometimes, we as adults forget this, and it ends up being a self-fulfilled prophecy for the child.

  3. School Sparks Renee May 16, 2012 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    This is such an important post, Deborah. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful knowledge. It is so helpful. Renee

  4. manasa January 15, 2017 at 1:53 am - Reply

    Thanks for such an advices

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