The idea of being in a crowded room with people you don’t particularly know is quite possibly the next closest thing to hell when you’re fighting social anxiety. Unfortunately, that scenario is all too common when you’re a parent.
From pediatricians’ offices to play dates, school functions to concerts and sporting events, being a parent with social anxiety can involve putting yourself through a lot of discomfort. The key to successful parenting while living with social anxiety is to find ways to cope and reframe your symptoms as strengths, rather than weaknesses.
Be Honest with Your Kids
Kids are a lot more perceptive than most adults give them credit for. Chances are your kids already know you have social anxiety, even if they don’t have the label to put to it. By letting your kids know what’s going on when you panic or have to deal with your symptoms – in an age appropriate manner – they’re less likely to worry something is seriously wrong and can develop a strong sense of empathy that others in their peer group may be lacking.
As an example, most children understand the concept of time-outs starting at pre-school age. If you find yourself on the verge of a panic attack with your child in tow, you can explain that you need to put yourself in time-out so that you can calm down. Older children can help you perform breathing exercises – like counting while you take deep breaths – or even help you scope out a quiet spot to relax and regroup.
Not only will being honest with your kids teach them it’s okay to take charge of their own mental health and ask for help when needed, but the coping skills they learn by watching you will serve them well in their own life or in aiding their friends and peers.
Look for Strengths, Not Weaknesses
It’s easy to think of your social anxiety as a weakness rather than an asset, but when it comes to parenting, you need to use those traits as skills to help you as a parent. You’ll be able to provide your child – and others around them that you may be in charge of temporarily – with experiences that are unique and underrated.
Perhaps you’re required to volunteer in your child’s classroom. Rather than mingling with parents and other students, see if your time could be spent organizing the teacher’s supplies or backlog of work — things that need to be done that require little interaction with others and are often neglected.
If you’re in charge of chaperoning a class trip, take your child’s group to the less crowded areas to avoid wait times and let them see things the others will probably miss out on. Don’t feel like supervising your child at a crowded park? Take them on a nature hike instead and get in some quality time with just the two of you.
Don’t Hold Back in Therapy
Parenting with social anxiety presents its own special set of challenges. If you’re working with a therapist or counselor, be brutally honest about your struggles as a parent. They’re there to help you figure out how to cope and work through it.
More than any other time in your life, you cannot be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself struggling – if not for yourself, then for your child. Most parents have problems, but you’ve got a dedicated professional who can help you navigate the normal ins and outs of parenthood, as well as the challenges posed by parenting with SA. Use that resource and any others they may be able to hook you up with.
What’s your best piece of advice for other parents living with social anxiety?