My Anxiety Plan (MAP) for Social Anxiety
The following strategies are designed for you the parent to use with your child as s/he begins to tackle social anxiety. These strategies are best used for children with mild-moderate signs of social anxiety. For children with more severe symptoms or who have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, we recommend treatment with a mental health professional, although MAP strategies can be used at home to support your child’s therapy work.
Step 1. Helping your child become an expert on anxiety
This is a very important first step, as it helps children understand what is happening to them when they experience anxiety. Teaching your child that the worries and physical feelings she is experiencing have a name -anxiety- and that millions of other people also have anxiety, can be a great relief. Help your child become an expert on anxiety by providing him or her with facts and important information.
To learn how to explain this to your child, see Anxiety 101: What You and Your Child Need to Know About Anxiety and Talking to Your Child about Anxiety and the ABCs of Anxiety: Understanding How Anxiety Works and Fight-Flight-Freeze.
Step 2: Teaching your child about social anxiety
- Reading or explaining some of the information outlined on the social anxiety main page can help your child to feel more in control of what is happening to her. Knowledge is power.
- Explain to your child that everyone sometimes is afraid of being around other people, like on a first date or at a job interview, or performing in front of others. Having a little bit of this worry some of the time helps us prepare and do our best. However, you can also explain that your child has too much of this worry. This is similar to a thermostat that is set too high and the temperature is no longer comfortable. Tell your child that you will work together, as a team, to give him or her tools to help cope with anxiety and gradually face his or her fears to get the thermostat back to a comfortable setting. However, because it is normal to have a little anxiety in some social situations, using tools to get rid of anxiety completely is not helpful. Therefore, using breathing or relaxation skills to be 100% calm is not the goal. Instead, focus on helping your child challenge unhelpful thinking and increase bravery by facing his/her fears one step at a time.
- Let your child know that social anxiety is fairly common, and your child is not the only one who feels this way.
Parent: I know you’re worried about giving the wrong answer in class, but how likely is that to happen?
Child: I don’t know. But it could happen.
Parent: Okay, well has it happened recently?
Child: Well, no, but it happened last year.
Parent: So, it happened last year, but what has happened so far this year?
Child: Well, sometimes I do know the answer. So, I guess it’s not that likely that I’ll give the wrong answer, but I just worry it could happen.
Parent: So what could you do if it did happen?
Child: I don’t know. Ugh, it would be so embarrassing! I’d be such an idiot.
Parent: Well...what could you tell yourself?
Child: I guess I could tell myself that people make mistakes and it’s not the end of the world.
Parent: I think it can help to remember that we all make mistakes. Have other students given the wrong answer?
Parent: And what happened?
Child: Um…Nothing I guess. Other people just raise their hands with the correct answer.
Parent: You might not know this, but I have answered questions incorrectly and even said and done some pretty silly things (try and give an example). Do you think I’m an idiot?
Parent:Well, if you wouldn’t think I’m an idiot, why would a mistake mean you’re an idiot? Sometimes it’s important to be able to laugh at some of the things we do. They make for great stories later!
Step 3: Creating your child’s MAP
The best way to help your child deal with social anxiety and related worries is to give him or her tools that can be used to cope more effectively. These tools are intended to increase your child's ability to tolerate anxiety, rather than to eliminate anxiety. Anxiety exists everywhere, and therefore it is an illusion to believe we can eliminate the source and experience of anxiety. It is far more effective to provide your child with the tools to tolerate and cope, rather than to control and escape. For social anxiety, you might want to use any or all of the following tools to create your child’s My Anxiety Plan (MAP). Facing my Fears will be one of the most helpful tools you can use, although you will likely find benefit and relief from many of the others as well. These tools are listed in a recommended order, although proceeding in this order will depend on the needs and interests of your child.
- Talking to Your Child about Anxiety
- When anxiety becomes a problem: What’s normal and what’s not
- Naming the Bully
- Balanced Thinking
- Cognitive Coping Cards
- Addressing Excessive Reassurance Seeking
- Facing My Fears
- Rewarding Bravery
- Coping with Back to School Anxiety
- Making Friends
- Tolerating Uncertainty
- Sleeping alone or Away from Home
Final point: Although increased knowledge and the many tools available on this website can be very effective in helping you to manage your child’s anxiety, sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes children have very severe anxiety, and despite all your best efforts, your child might still be struggling daily with anxiety symptoms. If this is the case, seek some professional help through a consult with your family doctor, psychiatrist, or a child psychologist/mental health worker.