Being a kid with social anxiety isn’t easy. As adults, many of us still have difficulty sitting down at a table and introducing ourselves to a group of strangers. In fact, many of us can say that if given the choice, we would likely choose not to be in that situation. Remember that your child isn’t given a choice about this, and will start a new school year with new people, new expectations, few breaks, and lots of rules. This is a difficult transition for just about any kid, but especially for kids who are introverted or anxious.
Here are four tips to be thoughtful about helping your child both prepare and soothe from the social demands of going back to school
Have a calm and encouraging morning routine
Talk to your child about what they are expecting from the day. If they are grumpy, irritable, or tearful, try to remember things like your own first day of work, or the morning of a huge presentation. Remember that your child’s mood and behavior are likely a product of feeling scared and overwhelmed, not out of a desire to be difficult. It is hard to be your best self when you are overwhelmed by what comes next in your day. Be empathetic, use words of encouragement, and remind your child what you value about them.
Try to avoid saying “Don’t be nervous,” to a kid with social anxiety
Think about times that you have been nervous, anxious, or worried; how helpful was it for someone to tell you to stop? For most of us, it’s not very helpful. Instead of telling your child not to feel anxious, try statements like, “I know you’re worried, but I’m proud of you for trying” or “it’s okay to be nervous, and it’s good to be brave.” Tell them about times you have been nervous and had to be brave to do something new. Rather than instilling in your child that being nervous is bad or wrong, your goal is to instill in your child that he or she has the power to respond to scary situations effectively.
Practice a few ice-breakers with your child
It’s difficult to know how to start a conversation with a new person. Sometimes, it’s even difficult to start a conversation with someone you know but haven’t seen in months. Brainstorm different ways for your child to start a conversation with others. Ideas might include thinking of questions to ask other kids, complimenting something (a cool shirt, a fun backpack), offering to share something, remembering to smile or wave (even if they feel too nervous to talk), and talking about how to respond if other kids talk to them (examples: ask them a question, pay a compliment, tell them your name).
TIP: Send your child to school with a couple of extra pencils (cool ones!), stickers, or other fun little school supplies. Cool supplies may attract other kids’ attention, and can be an easy way to start a conversation!
Let them have a little quiet time after school
Routines are important, and many of us have things that need to get accomplished after school. Remember that feeling anxious all day can leave your child feeling drained, overstimulated, and tired. Building a few minutes of silence, a solitary activity, or a calm and relaxing activity that you can do together may be a helpful way for them to soothe after the stress of the day. They may want to talk to you about their day, or they may not. Either way, giving them a space to decompress from their day may help them to have a smoother transition into the evening.