Social anxiety can be mild or severe, but it makes childhood and adolescence more difficult, preventing kids from developing into confident, connected adults. While psychiatric medications are one option, natural or non-drug therapies can also treat social anxiety and social phobia. Non-medical treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, biofeedback and relaxation techniques. Help your child or teen learn to cope with social anxiety, reduce stress and thrive.
Social anxiety is more than just occasional shyness. Social anxiety or social phobia causes extreme shyness, fearfulness and discomfort in social situations. Kids and teens may function well with family or a few close friends, but find public speaking, new situations or meeting new people extremely difficult and unpleasant. Anxiety causes physical symptoms including a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and even difficulty breathing.
Mild social anxiety may respond to self-help techniques and gentle encouragement. Have kids practice socializing with people they know well or in small groups. Help them role-play or rehearse what to say and analyze how a social activity will go ahead of time to reduce fear. Teach them some basic conversation starters and help them practice what to say when meeting a new classmate or speaking up in class. Enroll your child in an interest-, activity- or hobby-based group or class that provides a context for social interaction. This initial focus on the activity of interest can ease his social anxiety and encourage him to make friends.
Getting adequate rest, avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, and making time for regular exercise each day can all help to reduce social anxiety. Consider what may be occurring at school, such as bullying or difficulty with academic work, and take the time to talk with the school counselor, particularly if social anxiety or shyness is new for your child or you’ve noticed changes in his behavior and demeanor. Additional support from the school for learning difficulties, a classroom change or school-based bully-proofing programs may help your child feel more at ease. Difficulties in the family or with siblings can be addressed with family therapy, increased routine and structure in the home, or communication-building classes for the whole family.
Cognitive behavioral therapy comprises relaxation exercises that ease the physical symptoms of anxiety and aims to retrain negative thought patterns. Gradual exposure to social situations reduces fear. Group social-skills training and role-playing exercises can also reduce children’s social anxiety. Find a therapist your child likes and allow time for therapy to work. Family therapy may also play a role in supporting a child with social phobias.
Biofeedback and Relaxation
Relaxation exercises and biofeedback can help your child learn to cope with and control the physical symptoms of anxiety. Biofeedback machines monitor physical reactions, including brain waves, allowing kids to see the benefits of relaxation exercises in a clear, tangible way. With or without biofeedback, encourage your child to sit up straight and inhale slowly through his nose for a count of 4. Hold the breath for two counts, then exhale slowly, counting from 1 to 6. Repeat to ease anxiety. Yoga and meditation may also be helpful for kids dealing with anxiety.
If cognitive behavioral therapy, lifestyle changes and self-help techniques have not improved her social anxiety, speak with your health care provider about other options, including medications, for your anxious child. Without treatment, social anxiety disorders in children may cause them to feel lonely, isolated and depressed, missing opportunities for self-development and learning. Anxiety disorders in adults typically begin in childhood, and early treatment may mean a better life in years to come.