‘Shy’ Toddlers

Dear Faith,
          I would love your thoughts in shyness in my almost two year old.  I’ve noticed in recent months that if someone she doesn’t know talks to her or wants to engage with her (question, etc) she becomes very withdrawn.  I have had several experiences recently when she enters an unfamiliar space with people around that she will burst into strong tears for several minutes and buries her head in my chest, begging to go.  This leads them to declare her shy, or even, wow, she’s extremely shy!  I have read that it’s much better to avoid labeling her this way, as it may contribute to a feeling of defectiveness.  My husband and I don’t call her shy for this reason but invariably others will.  
          In known situations, she is exceedingly secure and spirited.  I’m with her full time but she often plays with other kids and we attend music classes, etc, and those interactions are positive since they are familiar.
          I know we each have our own temperament; I simply want to support her the best I can in these situations and in her social development.  I would also love to hear your advice on how best to respond when others declare her shyness.
          Many thanks!

Dear Mama,
          It’s extremely common for children at this age to go through a “very shy” phase around strangers.  I think that as infants, many children feel like they are part of their mother’s being, and as long as they’re in her energy field, they feel fine no matter where they are.  But this stage, approaching two, is the very beginning of your child realizing that she is her own, separate person.  At the beginning, this can be quite a scary realization!  So many strangers!  So many people who are not you!  Often between 19-22 months, children will get very clingy, suddenly have separation anxiety, and/or be scared of strangers.  This is totally normal and doesn’t mean that they are “shy;” it’s a spiritual awakening.  Then, sometime between two and two-and-a-half, your child will start to realize the power of being separate and of having her own opinion, and that’s when the “No’s” start to come in force.
          Mostly, I’d suggest limiting your child’s exposure to strangers as much as is practical during this fragile time, all the while knowing that this too shall pass.  When you are out and about, or friends come over to visit, if other adults remark how shy she is, just say in a light voice, “Oh, she’s just getting used to meeting new people again.”  If adults are trying to interact with her and she’s not going for it, you can ask her if she’d like you to speak for her this time.  Usually kids are quite happy to have their loving adult answer for them; you are the shield between her and the big, wide world.

Miss Faith


  1. Dear Faith,
    Thanks so much for this post. I love the concept of a spiritual awakening. And I also love asking permission to speak for her. Your approach is so warm and confirming.
    Thank you very much!



  1. […] I wrote to another mom about her little girl being suddenly very “shy” around this age:https://www.joyfultoddlers.com/2011/05/shy-toddlers/ The question for your daughter is, how can you let her know that things might not actually be as […]

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