Back to school season is right around the corner. For kids who experience social anxiety, a new school year can be quite difficult; especially if this is their first time at school, or they are starting at a new school. Social anxiety typically appears around age 13, but it can appear as early as age three.
Socially anxious children are often afraid to speak in front of anyone outside their immediate family and try to avoid extracurricular activities and social gatherings. They may even experience rapid heartbeat, nausea or lightheadedness in social situations.
If your child has social anxiety and is experiencing distress about the new school year, here are some strategies you can use to help reduce and manage that anxiety.
Children who experience social anxiety are often trapped in the mentality of “I can’t do this.” As a parent, you can give your child positive encouragement, and work to turn that negative attitude into a positive one. Teach your child that the best way to handle a situation in which they feel nervous is to say “I can do this.”
Teach that not all fears are equal
Help your child learn how to rank fears on a scale from one to 10. An example of a 10 might be a fire in the house or a car accident. A fear of interacting with a new person, on the other hand, should get a low number. When your child learns that his fears are not as serious as he thought, he will be more likely to approach them with an “I can do this” attitude.
Don’t shelter your child
As a parent, your first instinct will be to minimize your child’s discomfort, but sometimes this approach does more harm than good. For example, if a new teacher greets your child and asks her name, and you answer for her, you are depriving your child of the opportunity to practice overcoming her fears. Your child will not be able to overcome her social anxiety if you do all the interacting for her.
Practice, practice, practice
The best way to reduce your child’s discomfort in social situations is not to shelter her from them; instead, practice scenarios with her at home so she learns the skills to tackle them. Practice how to introduce yourself to a new teacher or classmate. Then practice how to call a new friend on the phone. Practice ordering in a restaurant.
The more your child practices these scenarios at home, the more comfortable she will feel doing them in real life.
Teach deep breathing
Deep breathing is a technique that anyone can use to calm down when feeling anxious. Show your child how to take a deep breath in through their nose for four seconds, hold it for two seconds, and then exhale through their mouth for six seconds. Encourage them to use this technique whenever they feel nervous or worried.
If your child has social anxiety, you may be dreading the new school year as much as they are. Rather than worrying about it, get started on some constructive strategies to manage social anxiety. Treat the new school year as an opportunity for your child to grow and blossom.