Social anxiety, or any form of anxiety, can be debilitating. It can take away the joy from life, limit your child’s ability to function and enjoy childhood, and can feel downright scary.
It can be helpful to explain to your child what anxiety is and does (when they are in a calm place).
Anxiety is a necessary response to danger (for example, jumping out of the way of a car, or running from a bee if you are allergic). With panic attacks, the brain is giving a false danger signal, making you feel as if you are in danger when you are really not.
When your child’s anxiety is revving up, empathize with what they are experiencing. Saying things such as “don’t worry,” or “stop crying” do not help. The goal is to help your child manage the anxiety, not eliminate it.
Try to distract your child with a question on a completely different subject and one that makes them have to think. For example:
What is something you are grateful for today?
Is an avocado a fruit or a vegetable?
How fast can you count back from 100?
Talk your child through a grounding exercise to get them out of their head and into the environment. Here’s a great resource for how it works: 54321 Grounding Technique
Coach your child to “freeze” the intrusive thought and do 5-5-5 breathing.
5 seconds in through the nose.
Hold 5 seconds.
5 seconds out through the mouth.
Small children may have trouble holding for five counts, so encouraging 5 in and 5 out will also work.
Work with your child on replacing the anxious thought with a coping thought. For example:
It’s just a birthday party. I might not know anyone, but there will be cake and I like cake. I can say hello to one person.
Timed tests freak me out. I know that I don’t have to be perfect and that not finishing is not going to mean I am a failure. The teacher is just trying to see what I know.
I have to get a flu shot and needles scare me. I can look away, make my arm like spaghetti so it doesn’t hurt so much and it will be over in a minute.