About 1 in every 11 teenagers in the United States suffer from social anxiety at some point in their lives. 1.3% of these have severe impairment, which can seriously affect their day to day lives.
Social anxiety can develop during childhood or early teenage. Kids who have this condition are faced with fears of social situations that involve interacting with other people.
This fear stems from a place of worrying about being judged by others or embarrassing themselves. If your child has social anxiety, you can help them overcome their fears through a variety of ways.
8 Ways to Help a Child with Social Anxiety
Here are some of the ways that you can help a child who has social anxiety to become more free and happy in social situations:
#1 Acknowledge their Feelings
When socially anxious kids show worry, fear, and hesitance to join activities, it’s easy to find yourself telling them that it’s not a big deal and that they shouldn’t worry.
While this might sound to you like you’re giving them encouragement and helping them get over their fears, it can be more harmful than helpful.
This is because such phrases show that you don’t think their feelings are valid and that they can just ‘get over it.’
What you should do is acknowledge their feelings and help them to face them instead of waving them away as though they’re meaningless.
If your child is anxious and you show that you don’t understand their worry and fear, they’ll likely become more fearful and close up more.
So, whenever your child shows signs of being socially anxious, let them know that their feelings are okay and that there’s nothing wrong with them.
That’ll make it easier for them to open up to you and receive encouragement when you offer it.
#2 Adjust Your Expectations
Parents have expectations for their children, and so do people all around. When your child is a certain age, perhaps you expect them to be able to engage with their age mates, play around, and be interested in things such as birthday parties.
But, if your child has social anxiety, they might not find interest in the same things that their peers do. They’ll avoid being in groups if they can and likely be branded as shy.
As a parent, it’s best that you adjust your expectations when it comes to your socially anxious child. Things that seem normal for kids to do will not be easy for them, but this doesn’t mean that they’re defective.
They just have a different personality, and you should try to understand why they act the way they do instead of forcing them to fit in with their peers.
Having high expectations and forcing your child into social situations will not work in both of your favors.
Once you keep in mind that your child will not always behave as you expect, it’ll be much easier to help them with their condition.
#3 Connect With Them
Knowing that they have their parent’s support and understanding is one of the things that can help a child overcome their fears.
This is why you should show your child that you understand their fears and that you know how they feel.
To connect with them, you can share your own experiences with social anxiety and tell them how you were able to overcome it.
This will help show them that their feelings are normal and that they can be overcome. It’ll make it easier for them to face their fears and worries and keep them from affecting them all the time.
Children with social anxiety may feel lonely and feel different from others when they see how easy it is for them to engage in social activities.
But once you show them that what they’re feeling is relatable, they’ll stop feeling as if there’s something wrong with them. And, by improving their self-belief, this can go a long way in helping them battle their fears themselves.
#4 Prepare Them for Situations
Preparing your kid for situations that usually make them anxious can help them deal with them better. For instance, if they’re going to play a game or act a play with their peers, you can act out events that are likely to happen and show them how to react to them.
You can also tell them what you would do if you were in their situation and was feeling anxious. Having gone over the possible events with you, they’ll not feel like they’re getting into unfamiliar territory.
They’ll find it easier to take part in the upcoming activity and deal better with incidences. Keep preparing them for all the things that make them anxious, and they’ll gradually master how to navigate the situations with less fear and worry.
#5 Know When to Step in or Back
Once you realize that your child has social anxiety, it’s understandable that you’ll want to step in whenever you notice them having difficulties.
While it’s good to offer them encouragement, you should be careful about how and when you do it. For instance, if you’re in a group and your child shows unease symptoms, don’t draw attention to them.
Instead, offer gentle encouragement that only they can hear, but not everyone else around. If you address their fears in a public manner, they’re likely to become more withdrawn.
Don’t force them to talk or act a certain way, and you should also not scold them about it. Even when you’re just showing your concern and want to encourage them, it’s best not to hover.
If you show that you’re always watching their every move, they’ll become more anxious and embarrassed. So, while it’s a good thing to be there to gently encourage them when they’re having difficulties, you should also know when to stay back and allow them to do their own thing.
#6 Teach Them Coping Techniques
Your child will feel better about their condition if they know there are ways, they can make themselves feel more comfortable in social situations.
Therefore, it’s important to teach them coping techniques that can alleviate their symptoms. Deep breathing is one of the most effective at calming the body.
It can especially be helpful if your child shows physical symptoms of social anxiety such as nausea, racing heartbeat, trembling, or stomachache.
Teach them to concentrate on their breathing when this occurs, and they’ll be able to overcome the symptoms without requiring help.
You can think of ways to make this exercise fun for them, which will also help them take their mind off what’s bothering them. For instance, you can ask them to imagine that they’re cooling a hot pizza while they breathe out. Or ask them to count down from 5 on their fingers the things that they can do.
#7 Seek Professional Help
If you’re unable to help your child overcome their anxiety, it’s wise to seek professional help. This is a good move when their anxiety starts affecting their daily lives severely.
Maybe your kid is completely avoiding group play, doesn’t take part in class activities, and it is difficult to get them to school in the morning.
If such signs persist, it’s best to seek an expert’s help. You can start with talking to their schoolteacher or counselor about their condition.
When their teachers are aware of their condition, they can make arrangements to help them feel more in place at school and help them cope when they feel anxious. Since they’ve also most probably worked with other kids with the same condition, they could be privy to solutions that can help.
You can also consult your child’s pediatrician and have them refer you to a mental health practitioner who can assist your child.
The earlier your child gets help for their severe anxiety, the easier it will be for them to overcome their fears and become more confident in themselves.
#8 Educate Yourself
Only by knowing what your child is going through can you help them overcome it. Therefore, you should educate yourself about social anxiety and how it affects your child.
Learn everything you can about what could be causing it, how it makes your child feel, and how they can overcome it.
There are several helpful resources you can turn to for authentic information on the condition. Government databases and websites are a great place to look, and you can also read books by child experts.
One such book is Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, written by childhood anxiety expert Dr. Tamar Chansky. It includes practical strategies that you can use to help your young children to overcome their worries, fears, phobias and be prepared for life.
It contains a variety of fun tools that are effective at teaching kids how to take charge of their fears and outsmart their worries. With such a book, you’ll be able to help your child more actively by using solutions that work.
Social anxiety is a treatable condition, but it sadly goes unrecognizable in most children. It’s your responsibility as a parent to notice when your child is having trouble in social situations and to seek ways to help them.
With your help, understanding, and support, your child will find it easy to overcome their fears and worries. They’ll stop feeling like they lack in some way and be able to face their fears with confidence.