How Can I Help My Anxious Child Be More Social?

Navigating the social world as a young person has always been challenging, but anxiety can make it even more difficult. It may appear your child wants to socialize but struggles to start or maintain social interactions. Your child also might seem content alone but you want to help them explore more social activities to expand their interests. Here are some ideas to consider when supporting your child with social interactions.

Explore avenues that focus on strengths/interests
  • Give your child the option to join sports, clubs, or other activities where other children will be participating in an activity alongside them.
  • Doing activities they enjoy will give them a confidence boost that will help socialization come more easily. Children may compliment your child on their efforts (or your child can compliment another child) which can open up simple, activity-focused conversations. The structured environment will require less on-the-spot creativity for starting interactions.
  • If age-appropriate, encourage your child to socialize in the virtual world. Games like Roblox and Mario Kart encourage friendly competition but also offer basic chat features. Mario Kart has preloaded chat responses while Roblox allows typing. Make sure to monitor their online interactions to ensure they are safe.
Model and encourage
  • Practice some scenarios with another family member so your child can observe what different conservations can look like. Here are questions that might guide some initial interactions if that is a challenging area for your child.
    • Younger children
      • Can you ask if they like (child’s interest)?
      • What if you say, “Hi! Do you want to play (game your child likes)?”
    • Older children
      • Is there anything you notice about them that you can compliment to start the conversation?
      • Are they working hard on a project or showing skill in a game? What can you say about their outfit, shoes, or haircut?
      • What if you show them the new games you’ve been playing on your phone?
    • Then, see if they’re interested in acting it out with you or an older sibling.
  • Practice deep breaths and positive affirmations with your child to prepare them for a social situation. Positive affirmations are little phrases that can help boost confidence and assure your child. Check out some examples below but customize them to your child as you see fit:
    • I am a good friend.
    • I am a good listener.
    • I got this!
    • Everyone feels nervous sometimes.
    • I can be brave today.
    • Trying my best is enough!
    • It’s okay if these aren’t my people.
    • Fake it (confidence) till you become it!
Be gentle and patient
  • Practice makes progress. The more opportunities for socialization they have, the more times there will be a situation where they feel confident and accomplished. Feel out where the fine line is between encouraging participation and giving your child control over their environment.
  • After a social engagement, give your child some time to process what happened, Then, ask them if they want to talk about it. If not, that’s okay! If they do, start by asking what they had fun doing. Additionally, you can ask if they learned anything or if they’d do it again. Lastly, you can ask if they want to try anything differently next time.
Ask a professional for more help
  • Different clinicians can support your child in building social skills and boosting their confidence in social situations. You may want to connect with a speech and language pathologist, social worker, or clinical psychologist.
  • Before consulting with a clinician, ensure they have experience working with children in your child’s age group who also struggle with anxiety. Clinicians at the Goldman Center work with children ages 20 months through 12 years. Contact the Goldman Center to speak with one of our specialists (773) 998-8500.
  • Ask professionals you work with if there are any clinician-run social groups (with speech therapists or ABA therapists) for your child’s age group. These groups will provide your child with real-time feedback and guidance in social interactions that they can apply to their life at school and on the playground.