As the bus taking my daughter to her first high school retreat pulled out of the parking lot, I saw her silhouette through the tinted window. Everyone else in the girls’ section of the bus was paired up. She sat alone.
I wanted to cry. I would’ve chased the bus down the street and snatched her off, if I hadn’t been surrounded by other parents. I said my good-byes, went to my car, and cried.
Nothing hurts more than seeing my kid struggling to fit in socially. As mom emotions go, it’s one of the worst. It’s a terrible, awful, no good, very bad feeling. As much as I’d like to spare my kids the pain of an uncomfortable situation, I know that’s not always best for them.
With the start of a new school year, I’m probably not the only mom who’s worried about my kids who struggle socially. Maybe you’re concerned, too.
Some kids breeze through parties and new circumstances while others struggle or are anxious in social situations. If you’ve never struggled, you may not understand.
I understand social anxiety well because I struggled socially as a kid. Maybe you did, too. In those days there was no such thing as “social anxiety.” It existed. We just didn’t call it that. We used different words to describe kids who struggled socially: shy, weird, stuck up. And those kids just went about life as best they could.
It’s hard watching your child struggle. Here are effective ways to help kids cope with social anxiety:
It’s comforting to know that someone recognizes and cares about what you’re going through.
2. Put Fear into Perspective
Sometimes kids realize their fears are irrational but feel powerless to do anything about them. Remind kids it’s normal to be uncomfortable in a new situation.
3. Encourage Participation
As a mom, we want to keep them safe within the walls of their comfort zone. Heck, I’d like to stay in that zone myself. But, as much as I want to protect them, I have to encourage (and allow) them to participate.
4. Find a Friend
Teach them how to create their own one-on-one situation. When she walks into a new situation, tell her to scan the room and look for someone who’s standing or sitting alone. Approach that person and engage in conversation.
5. Confidence-Building Activities
Activities are a great way to overcome social anxiety, especially theater. Theater may seem like a big leap, but it’s a huge confidence builder. On stage, you’re scripted. You don’t have to think of something to say. When they become more comfortable on stage, you can then help them translate those skills into real life.
6. Teach Social Skills
Knowing what to do in social situations builds confidence. Teach social skills, including manners and conversation skills.
Provide safe situations to practice skills without fear or intimidation. Teach how to handle awkward situations with grace, which will build confidence.
When she takes the big step and attends a social function, invites friends over, or conjures up the courage to join a groups of kids at lunch, praise her. Use language that gives her an awareness of what she did and how it made her feel. If she felt good, she’s likely to want to repeat the behavior. If things don’t turn out so well, tell her you’re thankful she was confident enough to approach the situation and handle it with grace.
9. Infuse Faith
Prayer always helps (for the both of us). At times when kids doubt they can do something, remind them of God’s promises like the one in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.
It’s heartbreaking to watch kids struggle to fit in. But, as parents, our job is to help our kids develop into confident adults. Unfortunately, I’ll have to suffer that terrible, awful, no good, very bad feeling to help my kids grow. I’ve got to resist the urge to coddle and give them the skills necessary to succeed.
And to do that, a little struggling is necessary.
How do you help your child cope with social anxiety? How do you cope with it yourself?
This post originally appeared on SheilaQualls.com in March 2015.