Dealing with Social Phobia in Children
Here are some important principles for helping children manage their social anxiety:
1. Don't push a child into social situations kicking and screaming. This is likely to only heighten their anxiety and reinforce negative perceptions.
2. At the same time, don't facilitate their tendency to withdraw. You need to be constantly nudging and prodding them to confront situations that normally provoke anxiety. Be sensitive to their feelings and ask them what they need to feel more comfortable, but don't let them retreat into a shell.
3. Try to expose them to social situations in limited bursts at first. Kids with social anxiety get overwhelmed easily, and so their symptoms can increase in a hurry once they've reached their limit. Slowly work up to longer and longer periods of exposure.
4. Some parents may find it helps to create a code word or some discreet signal that kids can use when they want you to take over the conversation or when they feel a need to escape. Encourage them to use it sparingly, however.
5. Avoid the tendency to overthink things or over-advise. It's tempting to want to help a child by arming them with an encyclopedia of advice and explicit instructions on how to behave. But this tends to make kids more anxious, not less so. Kids with social phobia need to learn how to relax and feel comfortable far more than they need to learn what to say and how to act. Try to focus your efforts around this simple advice: Just relax and be yourself, understand that not everyone will like you and that's ok, because enough people will like the true you to be sufficient. If a child has social skills problems that need to be addressed, this should be done through social modeling rather than advice and instructions on how to behave.