The Solution to Social Anxiety in Kids is Not what People Think

I have spent 47 years with Social Anxiety Disorder. It is an ugly, devastating disorder that tears you down from the inside out. It can demolish any shred of self-esteem you have. It can paralyze and isolate you. But the solution to social anxiety is not what most people think.

In fact, I spent years trying to do what seems intuitive, and it didn’t work.

To understand how to help kids with social anxiety, you have to really understand social anxiety. Unfortunately most people don’t.

The solution to social anxiety is often counterintuitive. When we teach our kids this approach they have more long-term success.

What social anxiety is and what it isn’t

Let’s just get all the misperceptions out of the way. Social anxiety is not about being shy. It is not about being an introvert. Yes, some people with social anxiety are shy or are introverted – but that is not what defines the disorder.

You can be outgoing and have social anxiety.
You can be an extrovert and have social anxiety.

Social Anxiety Disorder makes people have an acute fear of embarrassment, judgment or criticism. It can make you feel like the world is a stage and wherever you go there is a spotlight. It can make you feel like everyone secretly hates you, even if they smile to your face. Those feelings and thoughts can shut even the strongest person down.

Social anxiety isn’t about social skills

Another misnomer is that people with social anxiety need help with social skills. That’s not accurate. People with social anxiety need help not second guessing their every word. They need help not feeling like everyone is out to get them. They need help delineating what is a true perception of what is going on and what is colored by social anxiety.

Educating kids on social anxiety is a good place to start

As with everything I talk about, helping kids understand social anxiety is the first step. Kids must learn to help themselves and they can’t do that if they don’t know what they are trying to work on.

Teach kids about social anxiety. Teach them about how it can skew their perceptions. How it can make you feel like you don’t belong. How it can make you feel left out.

If I was taught this from a young age I wouldn’t have spent forty plus years agreeing with my social anxiety.

Here is a Youtube video I made for kids and teens on social anxiety:

The solution to social anxiety is more about this…

Often people with social anxiety spin their wheels trying to convince themselves that they are liked. That they do matter. That they do fit in. Trust me, I get it. I spent almost my entire life doing that.

And that is an important thing to do, but it doesn’t have a long-term impact on the problem.

In fact, as soon as there is another situation that triggers their social anxiety, they are back on that hamster wheel asking themselves the same questions.

I have taught myself to identify my social anxiety thoughts. I have trained my brain to call them out and not let them hide.

But I also go one step further…

What if they don’t like me?
What if they were laughing at me?
What if they don’t want to be my friend?

How do I answer that? How do I handle that? Instead of giving myself a bunch of platitudes, I rather take the bull by the horns and face it head on.

Accepting the worst case scenario

I have taught myself to accept the worst case scenario and work backwards. It looks something like this…

What if they don’t like me?

Then I wouldn’t want to be their friends anyway.

What if they were laughing at me?

Then I wouldn’t want to be their friends anyway.

What if they don’t want to be my friend?

I rather have a good quality friends than a large quantity of friends.

Once I work through how I would handle these scenarios, over time they become a lot less scary. Of course I often have to remind myself of these thoughts, but the approach has more staying power.

When we teach our kids to respect themselves. To define themselves. Social anxiety loses some of it’s power.

Beating social anxiety with this one-two punch

Overcoming social anxiety is not easy. In fact, it is something no one ever completely gets rid of. My social anxiety still whispers to me all the time, and I yell back.

The difference is now I have a plan on how to handle these thoughts.

When my social anxiety points out that people don’t like me – I call it out.

I know this is you social anxiety. What objective proof do I have that they don’t like me? Where am I getting my evidence from? Assumptions are not allowed, so try again.

I then move to the second punch.

And if they don’t like me…who cares. I don’t need others approval to approve of myself. I don’t need other’s validation to feel validated.

Sometimes it is a messy battle, but most of the time social anxiety will retreat. Back to it’s cave. Back to collecting data. Another battle lost.

How to help kids with social anxiety

The way we can help our children with social anxiety is to teach them this approach. Teach them how to identify and recognize social anxiety’s thoughts and beliefs.

Teach them how to analyze their thoughts for objective proof. Throwing out assumptions and speculations. Make social anxiety work for it’s torment.

Second, throw social anxiety a curve ball and accept the worst case scenario.

If it is true what social anxiety is saying, can I survive it? Can I be okay even if…?

The answer is always yes. Yes, I can survive if they don’t like me. Do I even want to be friends with people who don’t like me.

Teach kids that they get a say in their friendships and interactions. They are not victim to others reactions. They get to choose who they want to be with. They get to choose who makes them feel good.

Teach kids that respecting themselves comes first. That they should care more about how they view themselves than how others view them.

I made this YouTube video for kids and teens to talk about this approach to social anxiety:

Planting seeds for the long run

Now even though this all sounds beautiful, I am not naïve. I know that changing the way we think and behave doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t even happen over a few months.

These changes take time. They take practice.

But we can plant those seeds now for our children. We can start talking to them about valuing themselves. We can start talking about finding belonging within themselves.

We can teach them what social anxiety sounds like and how to spot it a mile away.

When we arm our children with the skills to confront social anxiety, they are better equipped to protect their self-esteem and their self-worth.

I can only imagine what life would have been like if a few seeds were sprinkled when I was young.

Tools to help kids with social anxiety

Social anxiety and me go way back. I get social anxiety on a level that most therapists don’t. When you’ve struggled with your own battle, you know what kids are up against.

I don’t want anyone to struggle unnecessarily. Social anxiety is treatable. Things can get better, you just need to know how.

That is why I created my on-demand online class, How to Crush Social Anxiety. It is a class designed for both kids ages 8 and up as well as for adults with social anxiety.

I walk you through the steps I took in my own journey and those I teach in my therapy practice to crush social anxiety.

When I started working on my social anxiety it was like a ton of bricks were lifted off my shoulders. My hope is that I can do that for others as well.

To learn more about my class How to Crush Social Anxiety click here.

 

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How to crush your social anxiety