Are you a parent who dreads taking your child to social gatherings? Does the thought of having to bring your child to a crowded park, a birthday party or even a play date with multiple children make you nervous because you know that social settings make your child anxious? Here are four specific strategies that parents can implement to help alleviate children’s social anxiety and strengthen their ability to enjoy social situations.
Practice with your child how to play. Children learn crucial skills through play with other children. But they also learn a great deal through play with their parents. Play with your socially anxious children in positive and peer-like way. Avoid being too directive and criticizing children during play. The main focus should be on being responsive to the child’s ideas so that the play interaction reflects equality. Follow the child’s ideas in an actively involved way and also contribute to advancing the “story” of the play. After you’ve given your child the opportunity to learn appropriate play skills, he or she will be more comfortable utilizing these skills while playing with peers.
Have your child connect through objects and activities first and then encourage your child to verbally interact. You don’t have to force your child to verbally interact with peers. Consider using a toy or activity as a way of comfortably encouraging your child to engage.
Be the bridge that connects your child to the world of children. As your child is most comfortable with you, make yourself a participant in the play. Use yourself as a means of enticing your child into playing with a friend. Get on the floor and actively engage one of your child’s peers by using your child’s favorite toy or activity as a motivator for socializing. The combination of you and their preferred activity is an effective way to diminish social anxiety.
Teach your child how to respond to uncomfortable and challenging social situations. It is inevitable that at some point your child will face rejection when asking someone to play. Give your child the tools to deal with such a difficult moment. You can tell your child that if a peer says no in response to your child asking to play, then your child can ask someone else to play. Or when your child wants to play a particular game but the other child wants to play something different, the solution can be that the children play one game first followed by the other activity, enabling both kids to enjoy the play session.
Setting the Scene and Teaching the Script: Two tactics to prepare your child for social situations.
For starters, remember that preparation is everything when it comes to eliminating a child’s social anxiety. To aid in the effort, you can serve as a narrator to set the scene of what is to be expected at an upcoming social gathering.
Prepare your child before a social situation by having a simple conversation with your child that includes specific details describing exactly what your child is going to experience at the upcoming event. Part of these details should address the physical space where the gathering is taking place and what your child will be expected to do in that particular environment. Here is an example: “This afternoon we are going to John’s birthday party. It is at a gym where you are going to be able to jump in the ball pit, go down the slide and jump on the trampoline. After you play, you will sit at the table with the other children and eat pizza and then cake. Then it will be time to say goodbye and I will pick you up from the party.”
Now that your child is prepared for the scene, reveal the script. By providing your child with the social script, he or she can feel confident with conversational wisdom when in the social situation. The script may sound something like this: “When you arrive at John’s birthday party, children are going to come up to you and say hi. When they say hi to you, you say hi back. If children ask you whether you want to play, you say yes and you can ask them what they want to play or tell them what you want to play.”
Prepared for what is to come at social situations and aware of proper play, children should gradually feel more comfortable around others and be inclined to make long-lasting friends.