Temperament is the innate way that every child approaches a situation. Temperament is just one of the many things that makes your child special and unique. There are three types of temperament: easy-going, slow-to-warm, and active. You may be familiar with these temperaments already, and often one of the temperaments that is easiest for parents to identify is slow-to-warm, or what many might describe as shy.
For example, as an infant, did your child prefer to be held only by Mom or Dad? Have you ever taken your child to a playdate or birthday party, only to get there and observe that he or she is hesitant to join the other children? While your child may be shy in certain situations, a slow-to-warm child will typically always show caution or uneasiness with new people or new situations.
Every child is different, and there is no temperament that is “right” or “wrong.” While a child who is slow to warm up may take more time to adapt, he or she is also typically emotionally intuitive. He or she may exhibit feelings of empathy more often than other children. Additionally, because your child prefers close relationships with a few people, he or she is also likely to be loyal.
If your child is slow-to-warm, it’s important to support his or her temperament in order to help develop a healthy self-esteem. Learn more about how to support and guide a child with a slow-to-warm temperament.
Avoid Using Labels
Try to avoid using labels like “shy” or “reserved” when referring to your child. Also, don’t use discouraging phrases like, “Don’t be shy.” Labels can place your child into a category that may inhibit him or her from branching out and adapting.
Remember that your child’s temperament is an innate part of who he or she is. Let your child know that you understand it may be hard for him or her to say goodbye rather than saying, “You are shy.”
Building confidence is one way to help develop self-acceptance. Acknowledge important milestones and encourage your little one when he or she tries try new things.
There may also be opportunities to introduce your child to new social situations in a smaller setting, like with one to two children. Practicing social situations like this can help them feel confident in larger social situations. You can also try planning a playdate around an activity that your child enjoys to help him or her get acclimated to new people.
Prepare for New Experiences
A slow-to-warm child can still enjoy new experiences; he or she just requires more time to get excited about those experiences. When possible, prepare your child as much as possible for a new situation. For example, if your child is starting at a new childcare center, talk about what to expect, but also act things out. Practice a routine so your child knows that these are the steps you’ll go through when going to the new center. This will help break down a new experience into manageable steps.
Understandably, you won’t always be able to prepare for new experiences. For new situations you can’t prepare for, account for extra time to observe and get comfortable. This may mean that your child wants to hold your hand or sit with you until he or she feels comfortable. Be patient and accept that he or she needs more time.
Guide with Suggestions
To help your child adjust at a comfortable pace, consider providing concrete suggestions of steps to ease into the situation. This puts him or her in charge. At drop-off, try offering a couple of suggestions: “When we get to school, do you want to put your things in your cubby, or wash your hands first?”
At this age, specific suggestions work better rather than open-ended suggestions. Offer choices to help your child get acclimated. Often, a slow-to-warm up child just wants extra time to put thought or action into a new situation. Caution doesn’t always mean fear, so allow him or her to make decisions about how to approach the situation.
When you are sensitive to your child’s temperament, it means you can be responsive to his or her needs. Try these suggestions to help encourage your slow-to-warm child to develop a positive sense of self. Learn more about other types of temperaments and how to use temperament to guide your parenting.
Temperament and self-esteem contribute to your child’s social-emotional development. For more information on social-emotional development, check out our blog posts on milestones for toddlers and preschoolers.