5 tips for creating safe havens for today's children
Posted Oct 31, 2019
Anxiety and depression are on the rise among our iGen (born between 2000 and 2013) and Gen Alpha (born after 2013)1. The school environment can pose unique problems for a child with anxiety, especially if their type of fear is social anxiety. Often considered “performance-related” anxiety, children exhibiting social anxiety are often triggered by both the social demands of a school setting and the performance demands within the classroom. The five tips below can help you, and the school, create “safe havens” within the highly social school setting, supporting your child’s anxiety before it develops into school avoidance or worse:
- Partner with the teacher and school at the first indication of concern. Don’t wait until the problem is significant to approach the teacher. As soon as your child begins to avoid school or indicate a problem, speak with the teacher to develop strategies early. Doing this can help you avoid the more severe cases of school avoidance.
- Develop strategies with the teacher for use within the classroom environment. Many anxious children are triggered by the typical performance demands of a classroom. Work with the teacher to incorporate some strategies that minimize the potential negative impact of the classroom, including: 1) Seat the child next to helpful and calming peers; 2) Work out non-verbal signals to use with the child to signal when the teacher is going to call on him or her; and 3) Provide an advanced warning to the child for changes in routine
- Establish “safe zones” for the child to use during recess and/or lunch. It is easy for a child with anxiety to be triggered by the noise and energy of the other students during lunch and recess. If this is a trigger for your child, work with the school to establish alternative places for your child to go. Working in another classroom and using the library often work very well for children with anxiety.
- Establish “safe” people on campus to function as coaches to your child. Although schools can be huge triggers for children with anxiety, they also provide excellent opportunities for children to learn and refine social skills and coping strategies. Enlist the help of someone on campus that your child trusts to help your child learn and use social competencies at school.
- Make sure the home environment is safe and supportive. As important as it is to mitigate the possible negative impact of the school environment for children with anxiety, it is essential to remember that everything starts at home. Making sure that home is a calm and secure environment can establish a foundation of safety that can support the anxious child.
Children who demonstrate extreme shyness and social anxiety-like behaviors can struggle in school and during social events. Following these tips and adapting them to your specific situation can go a long way toward supporting these children and improving their outcomes. Social anxiety disorder doesn’t have to dominate a child’s life. Providing safe havens can help your child find the balance needed to manage his or her anxieties.
For more information on supporting children with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and similar anxiety conditions, check out my previous article – 5 Tips to Support Children Who Avoid School. Additionally, here are a few books on the subject – Raising the Shy Child: A Parent’s Guide to Social Anxiety Disorder and Letting Go: A Girl’s Guide to Breaking Free of Stress And Anxiety. You can also get great resources from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
1. Twenge, J. M. (2019). The sad state of happiness in the United States and the role of digital media (World Happiness Report). Retrieved from https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2019/the-sad-state-of-happiness-in-the-united-states-and-the-role-of-digital-media/.