Anxious to get playing, my daughter quickly finished her cheeseburger before stashing her shoes in the little red cubby. I watched as she raced another little girl up the steps to the tunnel slide. My son watched with me, having finished his food a little bit ago. He sat as close as he could to me, practically in my lap.
A couple boys joined the play, and now there were four kids climbing the mini rock wall, zipping down the tunnel slide, laughing and enjoying the indoor play area.
My son continued to watch, inching ever closer to me. He loves slides, especially tunnel slides, but still he sat, frozen on my lap, all because there were other children playing there.
It’s not just when we are in those enclosed play areas, the same thing happens at outdoor playgrounds.
If I suggest going to the park, he’ll ask if we can go to his “favorite one,” a small community park we have actually NEVER seen anyone else at.
And it isn’t just at play areas.
I’ve taken him to the library for story time since he was six months old. When he started toddler time there, and all the other kids were jumping and giggling together, he stayed on my lap.
It took five years before he would sit on the brightly colored story rug, and then he sat as far away from the other kids as he could get.
He spent an entire year going to the preschool group at church on Sunday mornings, and NEVER spoke a word to another child there, nor did he participate in any of the singing activities they did. Not once.
It isn’t easy to be a parent and watch your child in those situations. And finding answers as to why he is so anxious around other children, when he can easily talk an adult’s ear off at the drop of a hat? We are still trying to unravel that one. (Related Post: Trusting My Instincts Got My Son Diagnosed.)
Easing Social Anxiety in Kids
Here are some of the ways that work for us when it comes to helping a child with social anxiety.
Prep him before the trip: Before we go somewhere we talk about where we are going and who we might see there. Having that time to prepare himself with whom we might see and talk to (like meeting friends on a homeschool field trip) really helps. Of course I can’t give him names of everyone who will be at the park, but I CAN let him know who we are meeting and planning to interact with.
Vestibular Input: Before we leave the house I also try to work in some type of vestibular input for him. Spinning in circles and swinging on the tire swing we have set up in the basement are two of his favorites.
Noise Cancelling Headphones: Noise Cancelling Headphones have been a big help. We have taken them to homeschool field trips, Vocation Bible School, and lots and lots of other places. I usually just let him know I have them and let him decide if/when he wears them. I have noticed it’s not always the loudest moments that he chooses to wear them, and that when we have plenty of vestibular input before hand he doesn’t seem to need them as much.
Crunchy Snacks/Gum: The past year or so I have noticed a growing tendency to chew/bite on toys or even the string from the waist of his sweatpants when we go places. The chewing seems to help him, so I have started to offer him a variety of crunchy snacks and even chewing gum in certain situations.
Did you know that October is Sensory Processing Awareness month? This post is part of the Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors series hosted by Lemon Lime Adventures. In honor of Sensory Processing Awareness month, bloggers are sharing their favorite tips that can help ALL children. Be sure to hop over to read all of this month’s awesome sensory-related posts!
And, with the goal of supporting the sensory systems of ALL children, be sure to check out the Sensory Fix Toolkit, which was created as a complete sensory processing kit in a backpack, including 15 tools to help manage auditory distractions, restlessness, and more! (I love the idea of having it all in one place, ready to grab as you go out the door!)
You may also want to check out one of the best sensory processing books available, Sensory Processing 101: The Complete Guide.