At first, you may have thought your child was simply shy.
With time, though, you began noticing certain warning signs that told a different story.
You may have seen your child:
- Blush, be jittery, and seem nervous around other people, especially in group settings.
- Keep their head low and avoid eye contact or mumble and stammer when other people talk to them.
- Look uncomfortable when addressed by adults, such as teachers, or their peers.
- Withdraw from people and activities, sit alone even when there are others around, and find excuses to stay home from school.
- Worry excessively about negative evaluations from other other people and doing or saying something dumb.
- Do poorly with school work.
Eventually, you came to realize that your child is suffering from social anxiety—an overwhelming fear of everyday social and performance situations. And then, you may have started to worry that their anxiety will ultimately become chronic, severely affecting their ability to function, perform in school, and make friends.
Of course, long-term impairment doesn’t have to be in your child’s future. There are plenty of practical things you can do to support them in coping with their anxiety.
Practical Tips for Helping Your Child Manage Their Social Anxiety
It’s not always easy to know how to support your child in a constructive way when they deal with mental and emotional health issues. But be assured, parental support is very important.
Here are some ideas you can implement:
It’s important that you’re aware of what your child is facing. Maybe you’ve dealt with some discomfort with social situations yourself when you were young. Though, perhaps not as severe as your child.
But even if you did, really understanding what social anxiety is and how it affects your child in everyday situations is the first step to being supportive. Books and the internet offer a lot of reading material for parents who want to inform themselves.
Be a good listener.
More than anyone else, though, it’s your child that will be able to help you see what they’re experiencing and feeling. So, be a good listener.
Let them express themselves without feeling judged by you (that means, keep those facial expressions in check!). Help them build confidence by reminding them of their past achievements. And assure them that social anxiety can be overcome.
Help your child relax.
Find ways to help your child feel comfortable with themselves and their surroundings. Help them to choose activities that help them relax, such as music, yoga, arts, crafts, writing, etc.
Encourage activities they can do by themselves and that they learn to associate with being comfortable and relaxed. And once they choose to participate in them with a group, those feelings of comfort and relaxation can help keep them grounded.
Use the exposure technique.
The ultimate goal in supporting your child with social anxiety is to help them manage feared situations when they happen.
Giving in to keeping them isolated won’t do that. As much as you may hate to expose them to their fears, it’s a valid method of helping them manage their anxiety.
After equipping them with techniques to calm themselves, give your child the chance to be subjected to a situation that makes them slightly anxious, with you present. Allow them to handle the situation without speaking for them, and praise them for their efforts.
Teach your child to set realistic goals.
In time, as your child manages to face mildly feared situations, they can move on to set more difficult goals. But keep in mind that these goals need to stay realistic in comparison to their progress.
Discuss what goals could be attainable, such as perhaps making a new friend or joining a small club. And help them to outline the steps they need to take to successfully reach their goals.
Coordinate with their school for intervention.
Since your child’s school can play a big role in exposing them to situations that can cause social anxiety, it’s important you make the school staff aware of the need for their support and intervention. Make every effort to work together with teachers and counselors to improve your child’s situation through the skills training the school may offer.
When to Consider Professional Help
Sometimes, social anxiety can become so severe for a young person that it paralyzes them in their everyday functioning. Don’t imagine facing this problem alone, though. Some things are even too big for parents to handle on their own.
For the sake of your child’s health, don’t hesitate to seek treatment from a professional who is trained in addressing severe anxiety issues in children. A therapist can help you figure out what intervention may be needed—be that psychotherapy, family therapy, or even medication.
Treatment such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help alleviate your child’s social anxiety and allow them to manage their daily functioning—at home, school, or anywhere else. With caring professional help, your child can learn to enjoy social settings again.