My 3-year-old is shy at parties

Smart love - June 2006


The Piepers


My 3-year-old is shy at parties

Q:My 3-year-old doesn’t seem to mix well with other children. When we go to a birthday party, she hangs back and doesn’t participate. Other children seem to love pinning the tail on the donkey and playing duck-duck-goose, but Margery just watches from the sidelines. I ask her if she is having a good time and she says, "Yes," but it’s hard to believe. I can’t understand what is holding her back. I am worried she won’t fit in at school the fall.


A:It is not uncommon for 3-year-olds in new situations to observe the scene and get their bearings. Also, many children your daughter’s age are daunted by the noise and excitement of parties. Let her get comfortable in her own time.

Perhaps your daughter could use more playdates within the familiar surrounding of her own home. Then, you might introduce some of the games played at birthday parties to see if your daughter is able to enjoy them in her own home. If she can’t, though, just move on to an activity she is comfortable with. These shy periods are usually time-limited. And we don’t think you need to worry about school. It’s a few months off and teachers are usually very good at helping shy children adjust.

How do I convince my son he isn’t ready for big boy pants?

Q: My 2½-year-old is holding his bowel movements. We took him to the pediatrician and there is nothing physically wrong. He asked to wear "big boy" pants like his older brother and said he wanted to go in the potty, but has not been able to. He waits until his diaper is on at night and usually has a bowel movement then. But during the day, he says his stomach hurts. When we suggest he would feel better if he went in the potty, he shakes his head no. How can we get him to feel more comfortable with the potty?

G.S., Oak Brook

A:Your son seems to have asked for the "big boy" pants before he was ready. He wanted the pants, but didn’t realize it meant actually using the potty. Now he is in a conflict he can’t resolve.

The only constructive way out is to tell your son you understand how much he wanted to wear big boy pants, but that you don’t think he’s quite ready so you are going to put him back in diapers or pull-ups for a while. He may protest, but we are quite sure he will be relieved.

Is a 7-year-old ready to get an allowance?

Q:Our 7-year-old has recently begun asking for an allowance, saying all her friends get them. My husband thinks she ought to work for it since he had to when he was a child. He thinks the allowance should be contingent on whether or not she does her chores. He worries giving our daughter money will not teach her the value of a dollar. I see his point, but I know this approach will lead to conflict. I dread it and think we should avoid the allowance issue altogether.

B.V., Wheaton

A:In our opinion, the best approach to allowances is to make them a treat and allow children to spend or save as they wish. Making them conditional on behavior or chores will bring conflict. Unconditional allowances does not spoil children any more than clothing or feeding them makes them believe they won’t have to work as adults.

Childhood is a period of normal dependency and it is parents’ responsibiliy to gratify their child’s needs, including the need for some discretionary spending money. We believe this type of allowance will actually make her happy and confident and teach her to be generous to others. Moreover, having a little money to spend or save at her discretion will provide her with an early opportunity to weigh the relative merits of immediate spending on small items vs. saving for more significant purchases.

Editor’s note: For a detailed account of allowance management, read the three-part series by Healthy Finances columnist Susan Beacham, found on our Web site,

Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D. are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline that Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.

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