Managing Children’s Social Anxiety
Do you have a child that is super playful and creative at home, but when it’s time to go to a playdate, attend a birthday party or participate in music class, they become frozen statues or terrified screaming animals? Let’s be honest, it’s kind of annoying and embarrassing, right? My daughter was and sometimes still is, like this (the frozen statue version). So, what do you do when they cling to you or beg to not go or cry and scream?
First, let me tell you what you’re not going to do. You’re not going to try and convince them that they are going to have so much fun and will be so sad if they miss it, because you don’t know if that’s true.
You validate their feelings and then hold the expectation. “I hear that you are scared, it’s okay to be scared. We are still going to go to the party and wish your friend a happy birthday and I will be right there with you.”
Depending on their language skills you can ask what scares them. If they’re screaming “No!” I love using the phrase “when you’re ready….” and keep repeating that until they start moving. “When you’re ready, we’ll get your shoes on and go.”
Preview a lot beforehand, tell them you’ll try something with them first and then if they want, they can try on their own, but don’t have to, say it’s okay to just watch for a while. Also, praise them. Tell them that you’re proud of them for knowing that something doesn’t feel right for their body and that they told you about it and you love that they communicated it to you. This helps strengthen your connection and increases the likelihood that they’ll step out of their comfort zone.
Written by Sam Savin, LCSW, JCC Chicago Social Services Team