Dr. Stuart Brown, author of PLAY: How it Shapes the Mind, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul“ answered this question from Jen Schoenleine of Cincinnati, OH on episode 11 of Podcast Beyond Belief.
How can I best encourage my shy child to participate in group play?
That’s a tough one.
I think that a shy child does need a certain amount of protection if they’re temperamentally fearful. Part of the avenue into playing more vigorously can often be through animal play where there’s frolicking (it depends on the age of the child) with a puppy or kitty, where there can be this experience of freedom without being intimidated by a group. And then, often, having a child that’s younger who the shy child can teach about a game may enhance that shy child into becoming less fearful and less intimidated by groups.
But to suddenly thrust a temperamentally shy child into a large group of boisterous players is shock treatment, not fun. Jerome Kagan and some other people have written quite a bit about the help one can give a shy child without overwhelming them.
And there’s nothing wrong with solo play – private fantasy play in a shy child can be very fruitful and very useful. The kid shouldn’t necessarily be criticized or pushed beyond where they’re able to go if they’re temperamentally very very shy.
There is a natural play nature that one can see in any kid, and I think that threading the needle and finding that and allowing that kid to have some joy will allow greater safety and, developmentally, more tendencies to be less fearful as they grow up.