At LifeSkills4Kids, we are passionate about helping young people with their social anxiety challenges. As parents, we want our kids to be happy, content and enjoying the adventure of growing into adults. In an ideal world, this would be easy for us and our kids to accomplish, it's not always quite so simple though.
Does your son or daughter become so worried about how they appear to others that they avoid going out? As humans, we all want to fit in and have a sense of belonging. How can you help your child when they stop doing things they need (or want) to do because of their fear of what others will think?
What advice is available for helping kids with social anxiety?
How can you help your son/daughter get through the debilitating fear that they experience when they think of how others perceive them?
What Is Social Anxiety?
In essence, social anxiety can be brought on by the fear of any social situation, no matter how big or small. The situation does not have to be one in which we would commonly assume that some people may feel uncomfortable in, eg, a party or public speaking. Social anxiety is not a fear of being in social situations, it's a fear of how people are going to view you.
Even small interactions, like having lunch with friends at school or having to answer a question in class, can trigger social anxiety. This is because the young person worries so much about whether they will accidentally do something embarrassing or offensive, which will lead to other people judging and rejecting them.
Dealing with social anxiety as a parent, is not just a case of telling your child to ‘stop being silly' or to allow them to avoid anxiety-triggering situations. It is important to work through the social anxiety with your child and help them to cope with any situations that are causing problems.
As parents, we can do this by taking time to understand our children and then working together. We can help them by teaching coping techniques and adequately preparing our young people to function in an often confusing world.
Teach your kids ‘Why' anxiety exists
- When your child is anxious, they may not know where that feeling and experience is coming from
- It is important as a parent, to teach them about how anxiety is a safety mechanism which our ancestors relied on to stay alive.
- It will depend on the age of your child as to what depth you go into. For younger children, you could potentially make up a story about eg, running away from dinosaurs or sabre-toothed tigers; for older kids you could consider the psychology of anxiety and discuss ‘fight or flight' and the part of their brain which is animalistic.
- However you choose to explain the anxiety, it is important to acknowledge it, learn about it together and think about ways to deal with each component part of it.
- Let your child also know that adults experience social anxiety too, empathise with them and perhaps come up with an example of when you have felt anxious.
- Remember, in our modern world, we are generally ‘safe' and we can explain that to our kids.
Tips For Helping Your Child With Social Anxiety
Encourage your child not to avoid things
It would be much easier to wrap our kids in cotton wool and protect them from the world – that is our instinct as caring parents! Doing this however, will not help your son/daughter to deal with things they find challenging and likely as not, these situations are not going to go away.
We can use our own life experiences to help encourage our kids to go and do exactly the things they would prefer to avoid. It is often the fear of doing something, rather than the actuality of doing it which is what holds us back. Think about a time in your past when this was the case and then share that example with your child.
Gently challenge them to leave their comfort zone
Remind your child that we have to push ourselves to grow. Perhaps you could encourage them to grow a plant from seed and notice how hard that seed has to work to push through the soil and become a beautiful flower? It takes time, patience and nurturing to allow that plant to grow and thrive, and that is exactly what your child needs to give themselves (with your help).
Help your child to identify a situation that makes them socially anxious and break it down into small steps, so that they can challenge themselves bit by bit to overcome it. You can encourage them to use their wonderful imaginations to visualise getting the task done successfully and to look back after they have accomplished it and notice how good they feel.
If your son/daughter is into Harry Potter or a particular Super Hero, you could work out how that character could help them to be brave. For example, your child could borrow Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak to keep them safe or Iron Man's Superpowers? Give them permission to let their imagination run wild, it can be very powerful!
Practice, practice, practice!
Once you have worked together with your child to make a plan of how they will cope when they are encountering a particularly fearful social situation, it is vital to encourage your young person to practice the new skill/bravery in different scenarios.
This will serve several purposes, we all know that practising a skill will eventually make it easier to do, to the point when it becomes second nature. Remember also to evaluate together how your child is getting on – you may need to tweak coping techniques until you find a formula that works for them.
When your child knows that they have an open line of communication with you to explore different ways of dealing with social situations, you will both be able to experiment with alternative strategies until you come up with ones that are uniquely successful for your young person.
This skill of experimenting with coping strategies is one which will enable your child to become a successful adult, as it will help them be flexible and able to cope in any situations that they may be faced with. Remind them that failure is just about finding out one way not to do something and they can learn from that and try something different the next time.
There are many ways for your child to relax, and indeed, for you to do so together. You could both try yoga or mindfulness; share a movie night together; use favourite music; use relaxing oils.
Remember that ‘relaxing' is a skill which we learn and by teaching your kids at an early age different strategies, you are setting them up for a fulfilling adult life.
If you need extra help, I'm running a workshop on June 21st about helping your child with social anxiety, check it out here.