Overcoming Social Fears in Children
Many children go through stages when they seem a bit shy or reserved but for some children, fear of social situations is ongoing and severe enough to interfere with their ability to lead happy lives. Children whose lives are limited by their social phobias may even experience developmental delays due to their inability to participate in typical childhood activities. There are things that parents can do to help their children overcome social fears, making it easier for them to interact with peers and others in a healthy manner.
What is Social Phobia?Social phobia is an intense fear of participating in social situations. Typically appearing in early adolescence, it is sometimes seen in even younger children. Children suffering from social fears may attempt to avoid parties, talking to adults other than their parents, or situations where they would have to speak in front of a group. For these kids, thoughts of presenting a paper in front of their classmates or attending a school dance brings great discomfort, far beyond simple shyness. Many children who have social fears worry that they will appear foolish or that they will do something that encourages ridicule from peers, so they begin to avoid the situations that they fear. This avoidance habit can have an extremely negative impact on a child's socialisation, hindering them from developing a network of friends.
What Can Parents Do?While some children may need to seek assistance from a psychologist, others who are in less serious need may benefit from these simple steps:
- Encourage continual contact with peers over school breaks. For kids who have trouble socialising, extended school breaks can make it all the more difficult to reconnect once school is back in session. Parents should encourage their children to stay in close contact with at least one or two close friends.
- Provide reassurance that some anxiety is normal. Children who are prone to excessive feelings of anxiety may not understand that everyone feels a bit anxious at times. Giving a speech or approaching a new person can make even the most confident person feel a bit of fluttering in their stomach!
- Encourage hobbies. Engaging kids can help them to move their focus from their anxiety to the enjoyment of participating in a favoured activity. Children may be more comfortable around their peers if they are bonded by a common interest, so joining a scouting troop or other group may be beneficial.
- Host a get-together. While it can be intimidating for children with social fears to attend the parties of others, some kids may be comfortable to host a gathering at their house. If an all-kids party seems too much for the child, parents might consider hosting a party for extended family or neighbours. These types of low-stress gatherings offer fearful children opportunities to develop their social skills without excessive discomfort.
- Teach relaxation techniques. Yoga, deep breathing, positive imagery, and meditation may all be beneficial in helping an anxious child learn to relax. Helping children to learn to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety may allow them to approach feared situations with greater ease.
- Practice with your child. While they may feel silly at first, it can be helpful for children to work through their social fears by practicing the things that they could say or do in some of their most feared scenarios. By trying out their approach in the comfort of home and family, anxious kids can gain the confidence they need to take those skills out into the world.
- Offer sincere praise, but don't push too hard. Even the smallest of efforts should be acknowledged, which can help to spur further advancements. Parents need to allow kids to make small steps, though, rather than expecting them to suddenly be the most outgoing members of their classes. By expanding their comfort zones a little at a time, fearful kids can reach a point where they can function well amongst their peers.