The situation: My 11-year-old daughter is very shy, and appears extremely uncomfortable at family gatherings. Should I be concerned, and how can I help her?
The solution: Shy children often want to be more sociable, but are anxious or unsure about how to join in. Shyness can also snowball. If children consistently avoid social situations, they often find it harder and harder to change this pattern. While your daughter doesn't need to be the centre of attention, it's a good idea to help her become more at ease. Let her know that most people feel nervous sometimes; share your own experiences of awkwardness and how you overcame them.
Before a family gathering, you and your daughter can practise – by role-playing – what she can say and discuss, and who she can talk to. In social situations, you can encourage her to speak by giving her openings, such as, "Why don't you tell...." Try to avoid labelling her as "shy," as this can reinforce how she views herself.
• Elizabeth Church is a psychologist, professor and the author of Understanding Stepmothers.