Is your child extremely shy in social situations? Does the fear of embarrassment stop them from engaging with their peers?
Social anxiety in children can be tough. Without intervention, kids may continue to feel fearful and isolated. Understanding how to help a child with social anxiety starts with figuring out what types of situations trigger the anxiety.
Different Types of Social Anxiety
For some kids, performance-like situations provoke the anxiety, such as answering a question in front of the class or trying out for the soccer team. Other kids experience social anxiety more broadly. Day to day social tasks, such as having a conversation, or being in public, can be extremely daunting. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to help a child with social anxiety.
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Taking a Step-wise Approach
Avoiding anxiety-producing situations may feel better in the moment but can make the issue worse in the long run. Setting small goals and easing into the situation can be an effective response to avoidance. For example, if your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking in front of others, have them practice at home, starting with a whisper or non-verbal response. Then you could move to recording your child speaking and playing it back in front of close family or friends. Gradually build up to a brief interaction that your child has prepared for, and eventually onward to greater challenges. Be sure to involve your child in the goal-setting process and never force them into an uncomfortable situation. Instead, offer gentle encouragement and praise for completing small steps. Progress might feel like taking two steps forward, one step back. And that’s okay.
Developing Coping Skills
Like other forms of anxiety, social anxiety in children can cause intense mental and physical responses. This might include distorted thinking, in addition to blushing, sweating, trouble breathing, and more. Just the thought of certain situations can bring about anxious feelings and panic. Learning coping skills and relaxation techniques is very helpful in managing anxiety. The more your child feels in control of their emotions, the more likely they are to anticipate the anxiety, diffuse it, and take on daunting social activities.
Understanding your Child’s Thinking
Social anxiety in children sometimes stems from the belief that others are paying particular attention to them and the fear that they will be perceived negatively in some way. Identifying your child’s internal beliefs and messages can help you figure out how to best support them. You may need to help your child learn how to challenge negative beliefs and re-work unhelpful thought patterns. For example, if your child thinks that everyone will laugh if they answer a question wrong in class you can investigate that thought by asking things like, “What else could happen?” or “What usually happens when kids answer a question in class?”
If you feel like your child’s social anxiety is affecting their happiness or ability to function, consider seeking the advice of a counselor who specializes in child-therapy, or sharing your concerns with your child’s pediatrician. Mental health professionals are there to support you and your child on the journey to wellness. Read more about different treatment options for kids with anxiety here.