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Teamwork and cooperation are two skills that can help a child achieve more in the real world. When we are working in an organization (community or professional), part of a partnership, or simply working with others to achieve a common goal, our success relies on teamwork and cooperation.

When your child is outgoing and confident in social situations, they often naturally find ways to develop skills of teamwork. Your role becomes one of supporting, encouraging, reinforcing, and making small corrections (when needed) to these skills.

However, a shy child may find it more difficult to naturally find ways to explore teamwork and cooperation.

Here are 4 ways to encourage your shy child to learn to work well with others:

Start at Home

Your shy child is more likely to take a chance working together with someone he or she is already comfortable with, such as parents or siblings. Putting puzzles together, working together in team-based games, or doing a collaborative arts and crafts activity are great ways to encourage the idea of teamwork.

Start Small

A shy child may have more difficulty practicing teamwork in larger groups. Start your child out in paired teamwork activities—working with a friend to make cookies or doing a school project with one student in class, for instance—as opposed to large groups can help build comfort in a team environment. If you can eventually have this pair work eventually feed into a larger team created by combining pairs, then your child will feel support in a larger team environment.

Show by Example

While the exact cause of shyness isn’t known, you’re an important example to your child seeing and understanding the importance of team work and collaboration. If you have a partner at home, you’re probably already naturally showing this collaboration by working together as a family unit. Try to find times to make this teamwork more prominent (and to put words to the collaboration) to help your child better understand the communication and involvement going on:

  • “Daddy and I are working together to make sure Thanksgiving with the family is extra special. Your daddy is helping with parts of the project, like brining the turkey and setting up the tables, while I’m working on parts of the project like making the stuffing and slicing apples for the pie. Later, he and I will work together to clean the house. Would you like to join us? What can you contribute to our team effort for Thanksgiving?”
  • “Your Uncle Taylor and I are working together to build this deck. He and both dug the holes for the posts and are working together to screw the slats into the support beams. Would you like to work with us to build this deck together?”
  • “Our community group is working together to make a dinner for a family in need. Each of us has different parts we are helping with, like making the soup, buying rolls from the bakery, and baking brownies for dessert. Then we will all go together to the home to help serve the dinner and to clean up afterward. This would be a big project for someone to do alone, but working together makes it easier (and more fun) to do.”

Praise and Reinforcement

If your child is shy, try to notice when they try to step out of their shell to work together with someone. Use your best judgment for how to best encourage your child (some children will be embarrassed and withdraw if you make too big of a deal out of it; others will be excited that you noticed and enjoy celebrating it with you).

  • “It was great to see you and Parker work together to make a smoothie for a snack this afternoon. I thought it was awesome that you both decided together which sorts of fruit to put into the blender, and that you took turns pushing the button and checking to see if it was smooth yet. I’m betting your smoothie tasted even more delicious since you were able to combine both of your great ideas to make the smoothie, and it was probably so much fun to work together with a friend!”
  • “You and Sarah look like you had a lot of fun building a block tower today! It’s fun to work together sometimes because you can build something even bigger than you’d be able to build on your own! Isn’t teamwork great?”

Final Thoughts

As always, remember that observation is a form of learning as well. Even if your child is too shy to participate in group activities, giving him or her an opportunity to watch team collaboration in action can still give them helpful cues for how to implement these skills in their own life. It can also make them more confident to try it on their own (some time when they’re a little more comfortable) since they’ve seen the skills in action.

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