Life After The Pandemic: Coping With Social Anxiety
The COVID-19 pandemic has rattled the country and forced many families to stay at home as jobs shifted to remote work and schools closed. Children have been largely kept away from others in an effort to keep families healthy and safe. As the number of positive cases of COVID-19 continues to fall, and more people have access to adequate healthcare and the vaccine, it might be time for your family to resume many of the activities that have been put on hold for the past year. Bridging the transition from home life to social activities will be an adjustment for everyone, but it might be a particularly challenging one for kids. If you find your child struggling with social anxiety, here is how you can help!
As states begin to resume regular activity, your child might be encouraged to return to school, sports, birthday parties, and other social activities. Although most kids are excited about the return to normalcy, some children might be resistant to this big change. Your child might suddenly dread going to school and ask to remain in online learning, or your child might not want to return to his soccer league, or your little one might be shy and avoidant at her friend’s birthday party. Social anxiety can appear in many ways, both physically and emotionally. (SYMPTOMS)
1. Form a positive connection with your child.
Keeping an open line of communication between yourself and your child can help them feel secure enough to open up to you about their worries. Always acknowledge their feelings, and if they’re too young to identify their fears, help give them the words to verbalize what they feel. Try to remain calm and relaxed yourself, too. Kids pick up on the way adults handle tricky situations. Show your child that you accept their anxiety and don’t pass it off as irrational behavior. Being timid in social situations is normal, especially for children who have largely been sheltered at home for over a year!
Help your child feel heard and accepted by practicing empathy. If your child is worried about an upcoming social event, like a basketball game or a birthday party, show them that you care about their feelings. For example, you can say: “I see that you’re feeling nervous about your upcoming music class. It’s been a while since you were able to practice with your teacher in person, and that can make it a little scary. Don’t forget, you used to love attending music class, and I’ll be right there waiting for you the whole time, and can’t wait for you to tell me all about it when you’re done.” Acknowledge why your child might be nervous, but give him a reason to be excited and relaxed, too!
2. Prepare them for upcoming social events.
Figure out when the next social event will occur, and prepare your child ahead of time for what to expect. The more details you can give your child, the better. Talk about the date and time of the event, how you will get there, who will be there, how long it will last, and what will happen there. Give your child a few options for what to do if she feels anxious (call you, take a bathroom or stretch break, or practice deep breathing). You can also role play the situation with your child, which can help them feel more prepared for the actual event. You can even play with your child, acting out different scenarios that might occur. If your child is nervous about returning to school, for example, set up a small “school” session at home, complete with a whiteboard or chalkboard, chairs, a desk, books, and pens and paper. Take turns being the teacher and student. Your child will have fun acting out the situation, while at the same time mentally preparing for the real deal.
3. Find a balance between stepping in and staying out.
When a helicopter parent constantly swoops in to save the day when their child is feeling anxious, this can just make the problem worse. Adults who tend to step in and intervene when their child faces a challenge can actually cause their child to become more anxious over time. Try to take a step back, while reassuring your child that you are there to support them. Don’t just let your child quit a sports team, stop doing homework assignments, or refuse to spend time with friends just because they’re feeling a little anxious. Do your best to encourage them to face the situation head-on with confidence. Know when to give your child an “out,” or a time to take a break, too. If your child is feeling extremely overwhelmed or on the verge of a panic attack, allow them to take some space to regain their confidence. That can mean skipping one day of practice, turning in a homework assignment late, or leaving early from a party. Be aware of your child’s mental health and wellbeing.
4. Practice coping strategies.
Anxiety is common, but it is also easy to manage. There are a number of coping strategies that work well even for young kids. One way to manage anxiety is to practice deep breathing. Instruct your child to close her eyes, put her hand on her belly, and breathe as slowly as possible, filling her lungs like a balloon. You can also practice count breathing, inhaling for five counts and exhaling for five counts. Another simple method is the “5-5-5” strategy. Have your child pause, and take note of five things he can see, five things he can smell, and five things he can hear. Switching from focusing on the stressor to focusing on these simple things can help calm an anxious mind. You can also buy your child a sensory necklace or fidget device to keep with them during anxious situations. These gadgets can provide a good distraction during stressful times.
5. Praise your child’s progress.
Make sure your child knows you can see their progress! Help your child understand that you don’t expect perfection, and that it’s normal to be anxious from time to time. Some children have an extreme fear of falling at a task, embarrassing themselves in front of their peers, or failing to live up to a parent or teacher’s expectations. Help children see the big picture, and shift their focus from the current moment to their overall emotional growth. Teach them that even if they don’t think they’re living up to their standards, that’s just because they haven’t achieved their goals yet. There is always time for improvement!
Many kids struggle with social anxiety, and the pandemic has exacerbated that challenge for children. Making the switch from life at home to life with friends, family, teammates, and peers can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Follow these five steps, and your child will have a great foundation for success in social situations.
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.