Here are some steps you can take to cope with the double whammy of social anxiety AND starting a new school.
What is social anxiety
Social anxiety is more than just being shy – although coping with a new environment can also be a pretty daunting task for a shy person.
Social anxiety means that you are afraid of many social situations, often a long time in advance, and that you think about negative experiences in social situations for a long time afterward. Social anxiety has a lot to do with a deep fear of being judged and excluded – or even humiliated and persecuted.
Children can feel the full extent of social anxiety. Although you do your best to protect them, kids sometimes experience social situations as frightening. They may even have been bullied or been witnesses to bullying without your knowledge.
In a more severe form, social anxiety prevents people from participating in social life. They start to avoid social gatherings and isolate themselves.
Cope with social anxiety – parent first!
If you want to help your child cope with social anxiety, take a good look at yourself first. Your child will pick up cues from you. You may not even be fully aware of the messages you are sending.
Do you have a history of social anxiety? What are your memories of starting a new school?
What did you do as a child to cope with your social anxiety? What kind of support did you get? Did it work?
Cope with anxious thoughts about your child
Are you anxious that your child may not be able to cope? This is another kind of anxiety that your child may well pick up from you.
Do you feel, maybe somewhere deep down, that they are not ready? Do you have confidence in them? Understanding yourself is the key here. If you have doubts about your child’s ability to cope with the new school, you can project your own anxiety onto your kid.
It is important to work on yourself so that you can parent with less anxiety and therefore help your kid to be relaxed and confident.
Cope with social anxiety – long before the new school starts
Prepare your child for the new school. Talk about it in an unforced, positive way. Ask what your child is looking forward to, and suggest school activities they might enjoy.
If possible, show your child the premises, and try to make contact with parents ahead of time.Try to arrange some play dates or group activities before the first day of school. Then, your child won’t find him or herself alone in the midst of strangers.
Ask your child what they fear…
… and don’t avoid difficult subjects or signal that difficult questions are not welcome. For your child, as for everyone including yourself, naming your fear is the first step towards overcoming it. Once it is ‘out there’, told to someone they trust, the fear loses some of its power.
Talk about it more than once. Take it seriously, even if it is hard to understand. Invite your child to solve the problem themselves, with your assistance.
Show your child that there is more than one option. This is also a good opportunity to find out if something has already happened to your child that made their general level of anxiety worse.
Show your strength and reliability
What your child is really looking for is a parent who is not afraid themselves. And a parent who can and will protect them. Studies show that children can cope with anxiety and difficult situations much better if they know their parent is both reliable and strong.
Facing social anxiety with empathy
Never shame your child for social anxiety. Instead, try to empathize and use your adult coping skills to help solve the problems.
Sometimes, social anxiety really is mostly ‘in your child’s head.’ Their fear of a hostile school environment may dissipate when you support them. Emphasize being open to new experiences and new people.
Sometimes, there really are things going on at school that a child cannot cope with on their own. If they are in the child’s past, talk about them and work through them. Try the help of a family counselor. If they occur right now, seek the support of your child’s teacher.
Social anxiety and positive experiences
Most of all, the best ‘treatment’ for social anxiety is a positive social experience. Create positive, welcoming, inclusive social situations to help your child cope and learn that the world they live in is not a hostile place.