Tips & Tricks to Help your Child Navigate the Social World

 

It is hard to watch your child struggle socially, and your natural instinct is to protect and comfort them.  It can be a fine line between providing this comfort and protection, and feeding into their anxiety/OCD behaviors in a way that will actually make them worse.  Giving in to what your child’s anxiety/OCD often means engaging in family accommodation behaviors, which make anxiety/OCD worse in the long run.

 

Read on for some tips and tricks to help your child navigate their social life without engaging in accommodation behaviors, which can reinforce (or make stronger) their fear and avoidance behaviors.

  • Social avoidance related to anxiety is more problematic than the anxiety itself, so encouraging your child to participate in social situations is very helpful.
  • Be a good coach, and model social skills you want to help your child with:
    • Model comfort with being anxious and having doubt in social situations.
    • Share your own stories of times when you felt anxious in social situations to help normalize social fears.
    • Practice social situations with them, such as how to start conversations or how to invite for playdates.
  • Help your child get involved in activities with structured social interactions, such as clubs or groups they might enjoy, sports teams, volunteering, scouts, etc.
  • Praise the effort, not the outcome
  • Empathize when their social attempts don’t work out.
  • Meet your child where they are; work where they are willing.
  • See what you can grow with encouragement, rather than being punitive about avoidance.
  • Keep in mind that your child may have a different “comfort zone” in terms of friendships than you. If they are shy, one or two good friends may be all they want - so help them unfold in a way that works for them
  • Specific suggestions for school:
    • Peer pairing - work with the school’s guidance counselors to see if they have a buddy program, or could otherwise help pair your child with a more socially competent peer.
    • Plan ahead for avoidance in going to school, if school refusal is an issue - prevent by setting limits about going to school (but set up supports, for example, meetings with guidance or a school counselor, social skills groups, peer-pairing with socially skilled peer, make teachers aware); if school refusal is occurring, see if you can shape better attendance by starting with a shorter day and gradually increasing time at school