The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.
Anxiety is a common concern for parents of children and teens. Social anxiety refers to fears related to being judged negatively or being embarrassed in social situations. Kids may experience social anxiety when asked to speak in class, when asked to express a preference to peers, when being expected to self-advocate or when part of peer interactions, like group texts or hangouts.
When people feel anxious and distressed, it’s normal to attempt to alleviate that anxiety by avoiding situations or by seeking reassurance (eg avoiding texting peers or asking a parent to email a teacher on their behalf). While avoidance helps alleviate the immediate anxiety, it actually perpetuates the anxiety in the long run. Caregivers can support their children by validating that the fears or worries are real and also helping the child by creating opportunities to face rather than avoid situations. Validation means acknowledging that the child’s experiences are real and that the caregiver understands them.
Creating planful and gradual steps to face fears (doing exposures) can help kids see that they can do things that are hard. For example- for a student who struggles to participate in new activities, providing opportunities to participate for a brief amount of time at first, and with a familiar peer, may lead to feelings of success. Then the parent can set the expectation to participate for longer periods of time. The goal is to provide opportunities to face hard situations and get through them. When informal strategies don’t lead to alleviation of symptoms or if mood, appetite, sleep or behaviors change significantly, caregivers should seek outside support in the form of evidence based treatment.
- Validate a child’s experiencing by first listening and then communicating, “I get that this is hard.”
- Create several steps to get to the desired goal. For example, if the goal is for the teen to participate in a group chat, identify 3 smaller steps that incrementally get closer to the desired goal.
- Express to your child that you believe in their ability to cope. Say things like, “I know that this is hard and I am confident that you can get through it.”
- Lead by example- model non anxious coping by acting calm.
- Watch for changes in mood, sleep or behavior that persist- if they do, seek outside help.
- Cognitive & Behavioral Consultants
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
- Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
- National Center for Learning Disabilities
- Autism Speaks
- Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE)
Authored by: Rachel Busman
Bio: Rachel Busman, PsyD, ABPP is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Senior Director of the Child & Adolescent Anxiety and Related Disorders Program at Cognitive and Behavioral Consultants (CBC). Dr. Busman has extensive experience providing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other evidenced-based treatment to children, teenagers and young adults struggling with anxiety disorders and other related mental health disorders. Dr. Busman has an expertise in the assessment and treatment of children who have selective mutism.
Dr. Busman has worked with children and adolescents in both inpatient and outpatient settings at a major academic medical center, where she directed a multidisciplinary team, and at a private mental health institute. She has taught and supervised psychology trainees, psychiatry residents and child psychiatry fellows, and lectured extensively on a variety of topics, including the evidence-based assessment and treatment of anxiety disorders in children and teens.
Prior to joining CBC, Dr. Busman was the senior director of the Anxiety Disorders Center and Director of the Selective Mutism Service at the Child Mind Institute, in addition to the Director of Brave Buddies, an internationally recognized intensive program for children with Selective Mutism (SM). Dr. Busman is the former president of the Selective Mutism Association, the nation’s largest network of professionals, families, and individuals with selective mutism. She is certified in PCIT-SM and is a within agency trainer. Dr. Busman is also certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology in Clinical Psychology and Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.