My child is painfully shy. Short of counseling, is there any way to gradually help her out of her shell?
The problems that your daughter is experiencing are very common for kids who have social difficulties. Novel, new situations are particularly challenging for her and she will tend to withdraw when placed in unfamiliar settings.
As a parent, you have two jobs to do when introducing your child to a new situation.
Prepare the Child for the Situation: When possible, take her to the site of the new situation the evening before the event.
"Tomorrow you will be having your first religious education meeting in this auditorium. Let's check it out. See, the restrooms are right over there. Look, they have flags. If they ask someone to handle the flags, you should volunteer to help because Grandpa taught you how to do it. At the meeting, why don't you sit in one of these chairs in the second row?"
By becoming familiar with the setting, her anxiety will be greatly decreased on the evening of the meeting.
Prepare the Situation for the Child: Call the adult leader and let her know about your daughter's shyness and social problems. And offer some solutions.
"My daughter will be joining your church group next week. She is very knowledgeable about her religion, but is very shy and will seldom volunteer. But she generally becomes more involved and confident when she receives praise or is given some responsibility. She is particularly shy around boys, so if she is partnered with someone, it might be better to team her with a girl. Many thanks!"