5 Tips to Ease Your Child's Social Anxiety
Photo: zbigphotography/Creative Commons
After acting like a social butterfly at two different preschools, my daughter, Maia, developed serious social anxiety when she started kindergarten. Suddenly, I was the mom I'd always scoffed at, with a kid clinging to her leg at drop off. Maia would hide behind me to avoid talking with grown-ups she didn't know. Whereas before getting "please" and "thank you" for the lunch lady was easy, now it could take 15 minutes to get her to speak up.
Here are some tips we learned over the course of the year working with her teachers and a therapist.
1. Take the pressure off. My first inclination was to punish Maia for being rude or not answering when someone asked her a question. Part of this, I realized, was because her behavior was embarrassing to me. When her teacher and I stopped pressuring her to present during morning circle time, she started to volunteer when she had something to say.
2. Find and exploit the comfort zone. Maia's social anxiety was just around adults - not other kids. Give the girl a few minutes on any playground, and she has two new besties. So her teacher encouraged frequent play dates; if the class were full of her friends, she would feel more comfortable. I got a calendar and booked two a week. We even invited all the girls in the class over to our house to make valentines.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Gone were the days when I could just drop my daughter off in an unfamiliar setting (like a birthday party). I found it helped Maia to talk about where she'd be going, what she'd be doing, and who would be there. When she started a new class, like gymnastics, we'd check out the classroom/building beforehand.
4. Let people know. Once I let go of my embarrassment, I discovered how helpful it was to call ahead and prepare instructors and parents for how Maia might behave. Mostly, I found folks to be very gracious; their understanding gave Maia the space and time she needed to open up. Soon her friends' parents were calling to let me know when she started telling jokes; her teacher and I kept in touch with frequent notes about her progress.
5. Watch your language. The therapist encouraged us to avoid using words like shy and anxious to describe Maia (especially in front of her). Instead, we asked Maia to explain in her own words how she felt in different scenarios and what things made her feel more comfortable. It was helpful to start a sentence with: "When I feel uncomfortable I...." and then she would add things like - "act crazy," "hug mom," or "pet a cat." The therapist then explained these were all tools she used to make herself feel better. We helped Maia add a few others too, especially since I am allergic to cats.
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