6 Way to Support Your Socially Anxious Child
Written by: Melissa Pinn, LMFT
Kids are often required to think about or take part in multiple social situations throughout the day. Social interactions are required when kids are at school, on the playground or playing video games with friends. Some children worry excessively about social situations. Their worry may takes over and tell them that they should avoid social interactions. If you have a child who may be struggling to manage their anxiety about social situations it can be difficult to know how to help support them. Here are a few ways to help your child manage social worries.
1. Model Confidence
Kids learn by watching their primary caregivers. Model a relaxed and calm attitude when in social situations. Be friendly to strangers, offer to help other's who look like that they may need assistance. Talk about any worries you may have about going into a new social situations and how you manage your own worries.
2. Beware of Labeling your child as "shy"
Kids develop beliefs about who they are based on labels that are given to them. Instead of attaching a label to your child, empathize with his worry, point out that he can learn to manage his worries and fear. Talk about how it may take him some time to warm up to others in social situations. Create a list of times your child went into a new social situation and emphasize how it was a positive experience. You may want to try saying something like,"Do you remember when you went to Ryan's pool party. There were many kids. At first you wanted to play bu yourself but by the end of the party you were having fun jumping off the diving board and throwing water-balloons with the other kids."
3. Teach Social Skills
For some children, making eye contact, joining in play and engaging in conversation does not come easy. Sometimes these social skills need to be taught outside of the moment. Take some time at home to role play with stuffed animals or lego figures. Practice making appropriate related comments and asking questions. Teach your child to observe how others join in a group. Read books about social skills together.
4. Be Aware of Instilling Fear of Strangers
Children are often taught from a young age about stranger danger. Teach your young child that if they are with a trusted adult there is no need to be fearful of strangers. As your child grows discuss times it would be okay to connect with helpful and kind strangers who have good intentions. Discuss ways to keep themselves safe when in the company of strangers.
5. Provide Frequent Interactions With Other's
Practicing social skills in small doses while in the company of other's can help build confidence and their social smarts. Praise small efforts made to interact with others and celebrate social wins.
6. Empathize With Your Child's Worries
Acknowledge what your child may be feeling in social situations without shame or judgement. Avoid telling your child what they should be doing or comparing them to their same age peers. This will make them feel bad about who they are and highlight their challenges. When a child's feelings are validated it can help your child feel better about themselves and increase their confidence. Try validating their experience by saying some like, "It seems like it may have been a bit overwhelming when you were at the arcade with all those friends. It was so loud in there. Let's make sure to problem solve how we can manage the noise with all the people at the arcade next time we go into that arcade."