Preschooler Gifted but Shy

Confidence-building experiences in school and at home with family and friends help children become more outgoing.
My three-year-old attends a Montessori preschool. He does an incredible amount of "work" (i.e., tracing his name, artwork, stapling papers, cutting tofu, etc.), but he is very shy -- hardly able or willing to answer questions from the teachers and barely interacting with the kids. At home and with his buddies he's known for years, he can't stop talking or singing, and he'll approach strangers in the mall or restaurants if he wants to show them his bug collection or give them a sticker. There are 23 kids in his class. Could the sheer number of kids make him unable to interact?

It worries me because at home, he memorized about 12 nursery rhymes by age 2, counts to 40, knows everyone's names in class, many of the states in the United States, collects bugs, and organizes everything. But at his school, he doesn't show any of this. Should he be in a smaller environment, where he feels comfortable demonstrating his talents?

First we need to remember that despite all his abilities, he's still just a little 3-year-old guy. With confidence building experiences in school and at home with family and friends, he should become more outgoing as time goes by. Are you and other family modeling outgoing behavior in front of him as he sees you interact with others? There is new research that shows that very shy kids are more likely to have parents who were shy as children.

I really don't think that the classroom size is daunting to him. There is likely a teacher's aide in there too. I am quite familiar with the Montessori system. Ask the teacher what she is doing to encourage his participation and interaction in the classroom.

At home have your son play act some possible social situations with you. Example, he wants to play with a toy another kid has at school. Practice with him how to approach that child, what to say, and what speaking voice to use. When he is happily playing with his buddies at home, gently remind him afterwards that this is what you would like him to do at school. Are there school peers who you can have over to your house? If he is successful in small play dates with school friends, this may translate over to classroom interaction.

It's too soon to worry that this will be a permanent problem. With encouragement and practice, his willingness to speak up in the classroom and at school play should increase.

Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.