Our three year old is a really happy little girl at home but whenever we take her to a party or leave her at nursery she becomes really withdrawn and won’t talk to other children. It’s quite embarrassing and also I worry that she’ll end up with no friends. How should we approach her on this?

It’s hard when your child doesn’t seem to fit in to social scenarios, especially ones where they’re supposed to be having fun. But maybe the important word here is “embarrassing”. Which as well as being honest, also shows that part of what you’re struggling with is how you feel about this situation. This is understandable: there’s a tendency as a parent to feel that your child is a walking demo of your parenting skills and home life, an extension of yourself, in a way. While this can be true in the main, don’t set too much store by it: a child’s behaviour is a riskily unpredictable standard to set, as anyone who’s had to deal with a public tantrum will tell you.

The thing is, your daughter isn’t engaging in destructive behaviour – she’s not hurting any of the other children or being cheeky: and you don’t say she’s upset, just quiet. Does she like playing one-on-one with other children in a quieter environment? If so, it could be that she just can get a bit overwhelmed with numbers, as any of us can. She’s still very young: faced with the choice of either hanging out with her mummy, or joining a group of children going about their noisy, often illogical, play, I can see why she’d stick with you. It is very likely that you’re one of her favourite people at the moment, which is no bad thing.

There’s a tendency as a parent to feel that your child is a walking demo of your parenting skills and home life, an extension of yourself, in a way.

Remember, too, that she hasn’t learned how to put all that effort into oiling the social wheels, doesn’t yet know how to make conversation when she doesn’t feel like it. Saying that, you’ll encounter many adults who haven’t learned it either. Maybe that’s part of your worry? You don’t want this to be a pattern for adulthood? That’s fine: just like everything else, you can teach her how to interact, how to manage her moods and emotions, how to be a social person.

Even if it turns out that she’s naturally shy, she’ll find her friends. And with you already putting some thought into it, you’ll be able to gently steer her in some good ways to work through any social reticence. When I was a teenager, I was hugely self-conscious, and very easily embarrassed. My mum pretty much taught me how not to be – or at least how to make conversation anyway, which was a real life skill. That’s leaping ahead a decade. There’s plenty of time. Right now, it looks like she feels best pottering around in her own company at nursery, and chooses to hang with you at a party. That you’re noting this, and thinking about how to help her interact with others more, means you’re bound to teach her invaluable lessons as she grows. But that’s a life-long journey, and she’s only three.

Have a dilemma? Send your questions to hello@motherland.net

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