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Social Anxiety in Young Kids: "It's Not My Party and I'll be Shy If I Want to."

Posted by Melissa A

My boys are usually friendly and outgoing. E, who is 5 1/2, is the center of attention at his school and M (age 3) seems to have kids from his class recognizing him all over the place. When they have friends over, they are the ones running the show.  They even say hi to strangers (if we deem them safe enough to talk to).

Then they get invited to a birthday party. One of us attends the party with them and they end up clinging to our sides the entire time and crying when asked to participate in an activity. This has happened more than once.

Just this past weekend, M was invited to a birthday party for one of his friends from school. It was a smaller gathering than the ones he’s been to in the past. He knew most of the kids there. However, as soon as we walked in the door, he was clutching my hand and refused to play with any of the kids. If I left his side for a moment, he got anxious and made sure to follow me wherever I went. The kids were all having fun playing toys and he only wanted me to play with him. Then it came time for decorating cupcakes. He refused to participate until I told him that we could just go home if he didn’t want to take part in the activity. After that, he decided to participate and would only do so if I were sitting right next to him. When we were ready to leave, the birthday boy came over to give him a hug and he got upset that another kid was touching him.

E hasn’t been much of a party participant either, from what I’ve been told by my husband. The only time it didn’t matter as much was when we went to Chuck E. Cheese for a party, as all the kids were playing the games they wanted and participation as a group was not required. I remember other times where he’d want one of us to hold his hand during all the activities, such as at parties where they have parachutes and races.

This also extends to our synagogue. When we go to Shabbat services on Saturday morning, there are groups available for the boys. E cries when I drop him off to be with his same-aged peers, most of whom he knows from the neighborhood. M will not let me leave his side for Tot Shabbat and it takes a Herculean effort to get him to participate in any of the activities on his own. He usually just wants to sit on my lap and turns inward when asked to do anything.

What can I do to extend their school and home outgoing behavior to parties and group settings?


About Melissa A

Melissa A. and her husband have 2 young sons, E and M, and a new baby daughter. Melissa's son E has hearing loss and wears a cochlear implant. Melissa works as an administrative assistant for a non-profit and also runs a bullying prevention group and a book-related fan group, in addition to blogging for Empowering Parents. You can check out Melissa’s personal blog here.

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