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The question

My five year old daughter refuses to socialize with new adults that she meets. If I introduce her to a friend of mine for the first time, she won't even make eye contact. Is this normal? How can I get her to be polite at least?

The answer

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I remember reading a story about a world famous surgeon who worked at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. In his obituary the comment was made "He always got down to the child's level in order to be non-intimidating." It left an impression on the parents.

At five years old, kids are commonly shy with strangers. When meeting new adults, some kids tend to take time to warm up.

Ask any friend that's meeting her to get down to the her level.

Consider practicing with grandparents who may be less threatening. Role play: Pretend that the adult is just meeting your child for the first time. Praise any sign of interacting positively, such as a smile, brief eye contact or a tentative handshake or wave.

Being polite is not easy for a child with a shy temperament - at least not at the start. The child may in fact be polite when not under pressure, but because of fears they hold back and appear to avoid socialization.

Do not force your child to interact if she is not ready. Encourage her, but always give her some space. Wait for her to be ready.

Ask your friend next time to bring along one of your child's favorite toys which you may have given to your friend beforehand. It is a form of distraction which takes the focus of the child. The toy then becomes a tool to encourage interaction.

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The main goal for you as a parent is to teach your daughter that she can move at her own speed as she tries to be more and more polite. The more confidence she gains in a non-threatening environment and free of pressure the more it will help her interact politely over time.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

Click here to see Q&As from all of our health experts.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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