Help Your Child Deal with Rejection

Louise worked so hard on her speech; she wanted to be the school’s representative in the annual public speaking contest. Unfortunately, she didn’t pass the auditions. She was so disappointed.

It took awhile for Tommy to ask Jerry and his friends if he could join them in their game of softball.  After one week of mustering the courage to ask, Tommy had to deal with Jerry’s hurtful answer: a “no.” 

Nobody wants to be rejected. It’s painful and humiliating and at times extremely frustrating. It can also make a person question his or her self-worth. If you’re always rejected, it’s not unusual to ask: “Can something be wrong with me?”

To avoid feeling defeated by rejection, it’s important to develop one’s coping muscles. It’s unreasonable to expect that we will be accepted all time; in life, there will always be moments of rejection. What’s important is that we gain control of the setback, so that it doesn’t debilitate us.

The following are some of the ways parents can help their child deal with rejection:

Raise Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Parents can help bolster their’ child’s self-esteem in three important ways:

  1. By giving generous positive feedback
  2. By limiting and softening necessary criticism
  3. By giving children ample opportunity  to experience success through their own activities

When a child has a positive view of self, he or she has a strong shield against the sting of rejection. Rejection becomes situational instead of personal, with the pain temporary instead of permanent. When you know deep down that you’re a person of worth, you’re willing to risk trying again, because you know the problem is not inherent in you.

Allow Your Child to Feel Disappointment
Welcome, name and accept all of your child’s feelings, including the sad ones. Avoid the rule: “You must always feel happy!” This rule stunts children’s emotional growth and makes it very difficult for them to ride through inevitable negative feelings and life experiences. Disappointment is just part of life. When you use “emotional coaching” (the calm naming of a child’s feelings) you demonstrate that YOU aren’t frightened by the child’s temporary distress. YOU can handle it! This gives the child courage to handle it too. Remember, you don’t have to force your child to cheer up every time he or she gets rejected. In fact, the best thing you can do is to give them time to feel sad about their situation! You can say something like, “Gosh, I guess that’s pretty disappointing.” Don’t look like you’re going to cry! Have confidence in your child’s ability to face life. In fact, the more you are able to comfortably name the child’s feelings, the more the child will be able to manage moments of distress. Remember that no matter what has happened, the sadness will pass and the child will be able to get on with life.

Help Your Child Figure Out How to Do Better
Rejection is an excellent motivator, and parents can take the opportunity to teach their child how to channel their disappointment into inspiration. Help your child figure out the reason why they got rejected. Perhaps they didn’t try hard enough; perhaps they were the wrong fit with the crowd. Whatever the reason is, there are always ways to do better the next time around. Effective problem-solving can lead to greater success.

Identify to Your Child the Areas Outside of His or Her Control
Sometimes the rejection is unfair and arbitrary. Sometimes rejection is the result of large numbers and insufficient placements. There may be a time when your child is subject to some form of bullying that leads to exclusion. Or your child could lose out on a great opportunity because someone forgot to file his or her application form. When these situations happen, it’s important to teach kids that sometimes it’s just unfortunate circumstances, or “not meant to be.” Not everything is within our control, and when we face something we can’t influence, the best approach is to simply let go. Those with a strong religious faith can draw on their belief that the rejection is not an accident and it is meant for one’s best development.

Sexual Harassment via Social Media

Our children may be spending considerable time each day logging on to social networking sites. But just because your child is surfing from the comfort of home doesn’t mean his or her safety is guaranteed. In fact, there is one serious threat to children online that must be given particular attention by parents: sexual harassment via social media.

The anonymity of the internet can easily make people do things they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Inhibitions, after all, can dissolve when you can’t see the person on the other end of the line. Add to this is the difficulty in policing people online, and the lack of anti-cyber crime laws in many countries and states. The reality is: the internet is ripe for committing sexual harassment.

Many cases of sexual harassment online have resulted in tragic consequences; from the teenage girl who developed an eating disorder because of the barrage of negative comments about her figure, to the gay teen who committed suicide because a video of him kissing another man was uploaded by a roommate. Sexual harassment, whether face to face or online, can result in psychological trauma and severe mental anguish.

The following are some tips in helping protect your child against sexual harassment online:

Educate Your Child
The first thing you need to do is to increase your child’s awareness of what sexual harassment is. Many children today are already getting sexually harassed but don’t know it, simply because the internet is filled with ideas presented in all extremes. For example, not all kids know that demeaning comments about one’s gender and/or one’s gender preference is a form of sexual harassment. The same goes with unwanted sexual comments or innuendos. Your child may already be suffering the ill effects of sexual harassment, and yet not know that they are being victimized.  Talk about the issue comfortably so that your children will feel comfortable coming to you when they have concerns or need your help. The last thing you want to do is make your child afraid to come to you when he or she needs you most. Avoid heavy-handed threats and tacticts. The internet is here to stay; help your child learn to use it safely and learn to use YOU as a safe resource.

Protect When Possible
Using child protection software may be helpful. Keeping your computer in a public area or just doing random checks can help your children and younger teens stay on a proper path and not deviate off to more suspicious communications online. Let your child know that you have reporting software and that you are checking regularly. Older teens want and need more privacy. With this group, make sure you keep your communication lines open; keep a warm and friendly relationship with them so that they’ll feel comfortable asking you for help when they need it. Also, as mentioned above, talk openly about your concerns and the dangers that some innocent kids have fallen into.

Never Release Private Information Online
Tell your child that he or she must always be careful what kind of information to release online — even to friends! Never give out contact details aside from email addresses; you can always give this information face to face. Similarly, never release information that can be used to track you, such as school ID number or a parent’s social security number, especially when commenting on pages accessible to the general public. A social networking site may claim to have privacy settings that protect members, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know when your private information will be hacked by someone with malicious intent.

Don’t Engage the Harasser
Teach your child that if you’re the victim of sexual harassment on social networking sites, the first thing you must do is to disengage — whether the other person is someone you know or is a stranger. Don’t argue or fight with your harasser; it will only lengthen the ordeal and encourage further contact. Instead, collect documentation, e.g. screenshots of what they said with timestamps, copies of their emails and IMs, and all information about them that you have. Then block your victimizer from your list of friends immediately and/or change your account, password and/or username.

Report Harassment to the Authorities
Tell your child the following: They should tell you and other adults what is going on. Let the right authority deal with your harasser. If he or she is someone from your school, then do report their action to the school principal or prefect of discipline. For people you don’t know, and for serious cases, report the crime to the police. You should also send the management of the social networking site a copy of your documentation so that they can permanently remove that person’s account.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is typically thought of as something that happens between a boss and an employee, or committed by a drunk in the bar. But recent reports have shown that sexual harassment in schools is on the rise. A national survey of American public schools report that as much as 80% of female students and 60% of male students have experienced sexual harassment while in school! Worse, most of the time these harassments occur right out in the open, in full view and/or hearing of other people.

What is Sexual Harassment?
Put simply, sexual harassment is any unsolicited and unwanted sexual advance or attack against one’s gender and sexuality. Behaviors considered as sexual harassment exist in a range, from making sexual jokes or comments, to giving looks that may be construed as lewd or suggestive, to inappropriate touches and forcing someone to engage in sexual behavior.

Sexual harassment can happen face-to-face or indirectly. Abuses within internet chatrooms, spreading nasty rumors, and vandalisms that contain explicit sexual content targeted to a particular person are all considered indirect ways of sexual harassment. Both direct and indirect ways of sexual harassment can cause severe stress and trauma to its victim, and must be taken seriously.

What can Parents Do?
There are many things that parents can do to prevent sexual harassment from reaching their children.

Prevention is always better than any steps taken after the fact, so it’s best if parents take a proactive role in combating sexual harassment.

Parents can start by educating their kids on what sexual harassment is, and its impact to its victims. For instance, parents must take a hard stance against making inappropriate jokes and comments, even if there are those who would say “boys are just being boys” or “it’s all just good-natured teasing.” Sensitizing children on the offensive nature of sexual jokes is a good start in preventing sexual harassment from spreading. Similarly, children must always be taught to respect people’s sexuality. Calling someone a “faggot” or a “dyke,”  a “whore” or other insulting sexual names is not to be tolerated under any circumstance. By teaching kids not to hurt others in this way, parents help put an end to the cycle of victimization.

However, parents also have to teach their children how to respond to sexual harassment in the case that it happens to them. This can help prevent trauma.  When a child knows what steps to take, he or she feels empowered and supported. For instance, teach your child to report harassment to the principle or guidance counselor immediately.  Kids can also be taught how to stand up to bullies of all kinds, including those who bully through sexual harassment. Bully-proofing can be brought into schools as a program for the student body – speak to the guidance department about arranging this. Kids should also be taught how not to invite abuse and harassment through their own behaviors. For instance, if a girl dresses very provocatively instead of more modestly, she is communicating that she wants to be noticed sexually. Although she is not responsible for being victimized by harassment, she is certainly responsible for inviting sexual attention. Teach your kids how the opposite gender reacts to cues (i.e. how boys are stimulated by revealing clothing and so on).

Parents can ask their local librarian for help in selecting age-appropriate materials on this subject to bring home for their kids. When children learn from books it can be extra powerful – it means that the information they are receiving is not just Mom or Dad’s nervous over-reactions.

Sometimes parents can take the advocacy to the school and the community. Many school administrators, teachers and community members are unaware of how prevalent the problem is, and thus they are not as vigilant in identifying and reporting sexual harassment cases. A culture of silence and impunity may exist in a school, so it’s best to launch information campaigns designed to remove the stigma associated with being victimized. Establishing clear channels for reporting harassment and systems of response and referral are also ideal.

Lastly, it’s important that parents make their kids aware of what their rights are. For instance, choosing not give in to peer pressure to harass others is a right and a responsibility. Similarly, one always has a right to say “no” to any unwanted communication or sexual advance. And if they are victimized, or know someone who has been, it’s their right to report the harassment to the proper authorities.

Forcing Sexual Attention on a Peer

No one wants to hear that their child is misbehaving at school, on the sports team or in the neighborhood. A call home from teacher, principal, or coach can make good parents cringe. They feel ashamed of their child as well as concerned for him or her. However, one of the hardest things to hear is a report that one’s child has committed a sexual misdeed. In such cases, parents feel not only shame and embarrassment, but also panic and horror. What kind of monster have they raised?

What are parents to do when they find out that their child has forced sexual attention on a peer?

Stay Calm
Hearing from the school principal — or worse, the police — that your child committed sexual harassment is difficult. You might be tempted to give in to your emotions and lash out at your child — don’t! Instead, take the time to calm down so that you can approach the situation rationally. The issue is too important to treat with drama or hysteria.

Take the Behavior Seriously
Parents of kids who sexually harass others may deliberately or unconsciously water down the gravity of the issue. They might say that their child is just being flirtatious, or is responding to mixed messages from the victim. If you’re a parent sincerely interested in helping your child, do not give in to this temptation. Whether your child was deliberate in forcing sexual attention on a peer, or your child is honestly unaware that what he or she did is wrong, this is one behavior you want to nip in the bud. Studies show that adult sexual offenders begin through inappropriate sexual behavior as teenagers or young children. Shrugging things off today may prove to be costly in the future.

Assess How Much Help Your Child Needs
Each case of sexual harassment is different and must be approached differently. Some cases are more serious than others and will  require professional intervention. Other cases can be addressed by parent education, sensitivity training and logical consequences. It’s important that parents assess the problem correctly so that they can make the most appropriate intervention. Enlisting the help of objective professionals is highly recommended. For instance, a child psychologist is in an excellent position to determine whether the child’s behavior reflects serious mental health issues or more benign inappropriate actions.

What are the things parents and professionals should consider?

First, ask: is this a first offense or is this behavior been going on for some time now? If it’s the latter then you don’t just have a one time incident to deal with but a pattern of misbehavior to address. You may need extra support and professional intervention to help your child towards positive change.

Second, assess: did your child deliberately force sexual attention on his or her friend or classmate, or is your child honestly confused regarding the gravity of his or her actions? If it’s the first case, the situation is more serious, as there is an actual choice to do something that is clearly wrong and harmful. You might be dealing with a conduct disorder or other mental health disorder. If, however, the child is honestly confused regarding the gravity of his or her actions, it’s possible that your child is merely poorly socialized, and has no idea how to behave appropriately in the presence of people he or she finds sexually attractive. In fact, the child may just be modeling negative role models, like swashbuckling TV characters who get away with the kind of behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated in real life.

Lastly, consider your child’s age. To what degree does he or she have an understanding of sex and sexuality? The younger kids are, the less likely it is that their misbehavior was malicious in nature. In addition, it is more likely that they would be confused as to when an action is wanted or unwanted. Older children and teenagers, however, must be charged with greater accountability for their actions, as they are expected to be aware of the impact of their behavior on their victim.

Provide the Help Needed
As mentioned, the intervention must fit the gravity of the problem. If the situation is not alarming – that is, a parent is dealing with a first offense, done without awareness of the wrongness of the deed, by a child too young to understand what sexual harassment is – then parents can deal with the situation at home using education, guidance and a system of consequences. For increasing gravity, increasing degrees of professional help must be solicited.

Education is the lightest intervention. Teach your child that what he or she did is wrong, and why exactly it is wrong. Emphasize that it’s a behavior that you don’t ever want to see repeated again. Sensitivity training can follow; teach your child to understand a peer’s point of view and why ta victim would find unwanted sexual advances not just offensive but traumatic. Contract for logical consequences; make sure your child apologizes to his or her victim and/or victim’s parents. If victims press charges, it is possible that the child may also be made to undergo counseling and therapy, or put in community service. Sadly, a child may also have to go through juvenile court as consequence of his or her behavior.

For serious cases, professional treatment is required. You may also want to consult the local social welfare office for resources on how to help juvenile sexual offenders. There are also non-governmental institutions that assist sexual offenders. Treatment options can range from out-patient weekly therapy session to residential placement and treatment.

Tells Tall Tales

“Last week we went on this huge trip to Africa. It was great. I got to see a real live elephant. Oh, and I shook hands with a tribal leader!”

Children have amazing imaginations. They can come up with the most fantastic stories, with attention to even the smallest of details. But while storytelling is a skill to be admired, lying and spinning tales is not. Lying to friends can become so addictive an activity, that by the time children experience the negative consequences of their behavior, they might already have developed a strong bad habit.

It’s important for parents to try to understand their child’s  motivation for lying. Knowing the reasons behind the behavior can help parents find alternative, healthier ways for their child to get his or her needs met.

What are the reasons that children lie to their friends and what can parents do about it? Consider the following tips:

They Want to Make Themselves Appear More Interesting
Sometimes kids lie because it gives them attention that they enjoy from peers. An otherwise shy and boring lad can become an instant celebrity with a few embellishments to his tale. And the more lies “work,” the more tempting it is tell another make-believe story.

What can parents do? It’s important to communicate to a child that lying to get friends is actually counter-productive. At some point, other kids are going to discover that the stories are not true, and this could result in your child getting abandoned or socially ostracized. There are healthier ways of getting attention, such as starting a stimulating conversation about books read, movies seen, computer clips viewed, games played, etc. If a child’s social skills can be developed, there’ll be no need to lie to make and maintain friends. For instance, a child can be taught to share true stories or learn to respond with enthusiasm and interest to other people’s stories. A child can learn to tell the occasional joke (help your child to realize that this skill has to be limited to appropriate times and places and used only in moderation). Parents can find children’s social skills books in the library (or ask the children’s librarian for assistance). The books can be used to educate and stimulate both discussion and role-playing. In addition, there are special social skills groups for children and teens and there are also teachers and therapists who specialize in helping children develop better social skills.

They Want to Get Sympathy
Kids may also lie to friends in order to gain pity or assistance. For example, they may say that their experiencing a serious illness, or they are having difficulty in a particular task or subject. Sympathy is also a form of attention, and being able to get attention through lying makes spinning these kinds of tales very addictive.

What can parents do? Lying to get sympathy can be a sign of insecurity in a child. The sense of inferiority and helplessness may be real, requiring professional attention. A consultation with a mental health professional may be appropriate.

They Feel Ashamed
There are occasions when kids lie because they feel ashamed or embarrassed about an aspect of themselves or their family. For instance, a child who attends a school largely populated by affluent kids may feel compelled to lie about a parent’s blue collar job, the house he lives in, the car the parents drive or the so-called vacations his family takes.

What can parents do? Sometimes parents can work on building family pride in non-material ways. For instance, fostering a strong religious faith has given many families a strong identity, community membership and sense of confidence. Also, taking steps to help children feel self-confident in general will help combat feelings of inadequacy or shame. Follow the 80-20 Rule, giving your child 80% good-feeling communications like praise, affection, humor and empathy –  and strongly limiting criticism and anger. A home filled with laughter and love can certainly contribute to a child’s sense of wholeness and inner stability. Of course, some children are simply insecure by nature even though their parents are generous with positive feedback and affection. If children are suffering from intense feelings of inadequacy for any reason, professional treatment can help foster greater self-acceptance and personal confidence.

Special Education

The traditional classroom setting is not always a good fit for a child with special needs. If your child has learning disabilities (i.e. reading and writing difficulties), he or she may have trouble keeping up with peers in a regular classroom setting. Similarly, if your child has a behavioral disorder, such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), then your child may need certain interventions that a regular classroom teacher is not trained in. And if your child is gifted in a particular way, then he or she may find the general curriculum insufficiently stimulating.

To help your child get the most in his or her learning situation, you may want to consider placing him or her in a special education classroom.

What is a Special Education Classroom?
As the term implies, a special education classroom refers to a learning environment that differs from the standard education offered in traditional public and private schools.

A special education classroom offers alternative teaching and classroom management styles, from instructors trained in special education. Materials are also adapted to the special needs of the learners; for instance children who are visually impaired may be given textbooks in brail or large font. The curriculum may also be atypical; a special education class for children with mental retardation and autism can teach self-management and social skills instead of math or science.

What’s Great about Special Education Classrooms?
In a special education classroom, students are encouraged to learn at their own pace, and thus the class need not follow the school curriculum prescribed by the government. Learning is very individualized; usually instructors tailor fit their lesson plan to the profile of the class, making each special education class unique.

Typically, teacher-learner ratio is very small, at times even 1:1. Parents, caregivers and learning specialists may also accompany students while taking their classes, unlike in the traditional classroom environment where classroom parental supervision is discouraged after the first day of class.

Should Your Child be Enrolled in a Special Education Class?
If you have a child with special needs, a special education classroom may be appropriate. However, it’s important to keep in mind both the advantages and disadvantages of special placement.

One of the main disadvantages of special education classrooms is that they tend to take kids away from what is perceived as a “normal” learning experience. Children miss opportunities to socialize and learn with the other “normal” (not identified as “special!”) kids their age. They may also feel like they are being ostracized for their disability or special needs, that their exclusion from mainstream classroom is a sign that they are inferior in some way.

Some educators argue that special education classrooms do not adequately prepare a child for the real world, as most social and working environments will require mainstreaming. Special education classrooms are largely dependent too on the skill of the instructor or administrator; with the term “special needs” having such a huge scope, that it’s quite possible for a special education class to fail to respond adequately to each child.

Below are some things you may consider as a parent:

Can My Child’s Learning Needs be Responded to Adequately in a Traditional Classroom?
Note that special needs differ in nature and degree, and your child may not require a special education classroom after all. A child with mild ADHD, for example, can successfully mainstream if his or her condition is adequately managed by therapy and medication. A child with hearing problems may be assisted by technology or a caregiver who provides sign language interpretation. If reasonable accommodations can be made, it might be best to limit the changes to a child’s life because of a disability or condition.

Will My Child Do Better in a Special Education Classroom?
On the flipside, all parents want their children to be the best that they can be. We all have to concede that general education is precisely that — general. Even if your child can perform adequately in a traditional classroom, if the individualized teaching methods and specialized equipment can assist them to achieve and break expectations, then by all means enroll your child in a special education classroom.

Can You Augment Special Education Classrooms with Other Supportive Activities?
What you sacrifice when you enroll your child in a special education class, you can recover by increasing their participation in other programs designed to increase their socialization and self-sufficiency. Programs geared towards developing talents, summer camps and the like can all augment what is lost in special education. In fact, there is nothing to say that special education classrooms can’t be taken alongside traditional classroom learning — perhaps your child can get the best of both worlds.

Can You Afford Special Education Classrooms?
Luckily, with the government’s growing recognition of the rights and needs of persons with disabilities, special education is offered for free in many states. There are also many non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups who offer special education for a low cost. But most private special education classrooms still require hefty tuition, understandably because one-on-one care is costly. Personal finances are a realistic consideration.

Child is Bullied

Being the victim of a bully can take a severe toll on a child. There are intense feelings like anger, helplessness, sadness, shame and fear to process and accept. There’s also the stress that comes with the aftermath of the difficult event, including having to deal with authority figures who want to know more about what happened, and peers who choose to tease and ridicule. The effects of bullying can be felt for weeks, and in severe, traumatic cases – a lifetime.

If you have a child who has experienced bullying or mistreatment, consider the following tips:

Emphasize That It’s Not His or Her Fault
Bullying and mistreatment are the result of a perpetrator choosing to act aggressively against a less strong individual. This means that the problem is with the aggressor, not the victim. Kids need to know that they did nothing to “ask for it” — they did not get victimized because they deserve to be treated shabbily. Nor is the aggression a result of them being weak and fragile. Being stronger is not license to abuse one’s power.

Help Your Child Vent His or Her Feelings
As mentioned, surviving bullying and mistreatment can create many unpleasant emotions in a child. These emotions are normal, and should be affirmed by a parent or a caregiver. Saying that “you’ll get over it” or “you’re overreacting” or “toughen up” will just force a child to repress what he or she is feeling, instead of getting it out and moving on. If you want to help your child bounce back from a negative experience, give them the opportunity to grieve. Let them talk about what happened; allow them to cry, stomp their feet or temporarily withdraw from friends. When it comes to negative emotions, it’s better to let them out than keep them in.

Role Play Victory Over the Aggressor
Sometimes kids who are victimized ruminate about their inability to fight back. These thoughts can become obsessions, and in turn become anxieties. One way parents can help their child recover from their feeling of helplessness and self-blame is to role play what they want but didn’t or couldn’t do to their bully. For example, did they want to scream and fight back? Do they fantasize about telling the bully off? Let them paint a verbal fantasy of what they wish they would have done or what they’d like to do now – don’t worry about how violent it may sound. Imagining “pay back” aggression doesn’t lead to actually becoming violent; on the contrary, the imagination releases violent feelings in a safe, harmless way. Once the energy is moved out of the child’s mind, it is also moved out of his body. If,however, you notice that your child is actually talking about taking revenge in the real world, do step in and advice him of the potential negative consequences. Help your child identify with “good guy” characters rather than villains. Make up stories for him or ask your librarian for help in selecting books that will model the right attitudes and behaviors in the face of victimization.

Affirm Your Child’s Strengths
Focus on your child’s innate strengths and ability to recover. You don’t have to teach all skills in moving on from a bad experience. Instead, affirm what is already there and build from it. Bullying and mistreatment do not make the whole of your child’s person; for sure, he or she has plenty of things to feel proud out. However, if bullying has weakened your child’s self-concept, try to give your youngster extra “strengthening” experiences. For instance, enroll your child in sports or self-defense arts to build a strong physical self-image. This will help put a protective aura around your child so that bullies won’t be so tempted to pick on him. Or, enroll your child in drama classes so that he can experiment with and find different aspects of his personality that he can call upon when he needs to. Make sure you are not bullying your child at home with forceful discipline or name-calling; if your child gets used to being treated badly, he wears an invisible energetic sign that says “beat me up” – and disturbed children are all too willing to comply. Your child may benefit from assertiveness training or special anti-bullying classes, art therapy or play therapy. Other types of psychotherapy can also help your child process the pain of his experience and learn skills that will help him become “bully-proof” in the future. School guidance counselors may also provide good support and practical skills.

Anxious in Social Situations

Does the thought of giving a class presentation keep your child awake at night? How about the idea of introducing him or herself to strangers? Does your child obsessively worry about what others might say, and whether he or she will be liked? Or is he or she afraid to make social arrangements? If the answer to any of the above is yes, consider the possibility that your child has some level of social anxiety.

What is Social Anxiety?
As the term implies, social anxiety is the experience of discomfort, worry or fear when in the real or imagined presence of other people. Situations where one has to introduce and present one’s self, initiate and maintain conversation, or put oneself up for scrutiny and critique, trigger unease and concern in the person with social anxiety. Anxiety reactions can range from mild to severe – from just feeling nervous to deciding to avoid all social situations altogether.

Is Social Anxiety Normal?
Moderate social anxiety is a normal and common human condition. You yourself have probably worried at some point in your life about what others would think of you, or how strangers, friends and loved ones would react to you. In fact, social anxiety might be construed as a sign of a child’s growing appreciation of another person’s point of view and the natural stresses of relating with other people. After all, judgment is real and the consequences of rejection are also real. A bit of social anxiety can be considered healthy in that it is a realistic appreciation of the possible risks and costs of social interaction. It might even keep us in line, enhancing self-control and self-regulation (so as not to make fools of ourselves!) The trick is to manage moderate social anxiety so that it doesn’t get in our way or in the way of our children.

There are some self-help strategies that can help adults and children reduce normal levels of social anxiety. Practicing social skills can help. Parents can bring home some library books for their children on social skills and good manners. These can provide concrete strategies that will build confidence. Enrolling in drama class may increase social confidence as a child learns how to “act” social. Taking social skills classes from a professional social skills teacher can also be helpful.

There are also strategies geared to managing anxiety symptoms. For instance, before meeting new people, giving a presentation or attending a party, a person of any age can take “Rescue Remedy” (a Bach Flower Remedy available at health food stores and online). Rescue Remedy helps turn off “butterflies,” rapid heart-beat, sweaty palms and other symptoms caused by the release of adrenaline (the body’s panic and anxiety chemical). A few drops in a glass of water, sipped slowly, can restore a sense of calm. Similarly, preparing for the event by using EFT (emotional freedom technique – a self-help tool that turns off the adrenaline response) can be really helpful. There are lots of on-line resources for learning EFT. If a child or adult suffers from chronic social anxiety, he or she can use Bach Flower Remedies to heal the self-conscious tendency. Either visit a Bach Flower practitioner for a specially blended mixture of the remedies, look online for descriptions of each remedy, or simply experiment with a mixture of Rock Rose, Mimulus, Larch and Cerato (remedies that address common underlying reasons for the anxious feelings). If you choose to mix your own remedies, simply add 2 drops of each remedy to a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle (available where Bach Flower Remedies are sold) that has been filled with water. Add one teaspoon of brandy to preserve the mixture in the bottle. Take four drops four times a day until the anxiety is no longer an issue. If it returns, repeat the treatment. Repeat as often as necessary until the anxiety no longer returns.

Consider Social Anxiety Disorder
While feelings of social nervousness and self-consciousness can fall within the normal range, there are also social fears that are much more intense and problematic. When social anxiety causes severe distress or interferes with functioning at work, school or socially, then it may be a manifestation of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)  – a serious mental health disorder. The anxiety experienced by a person with SAD can be so extreme that the person has difficulty  working outside his own home environment or going to school and he or she may be unable to establish friendships or intimate partnerships.

Social Anxiety Disorder requires assessment and treatment by a mental health professional. A psychiatrist can prescribe anti-anxiety medication that may provide relief. Psychologists may set up cognitive-behavioral interventions or other interventions aimed at reducing and managing anxiety. A child with social anxiety should be seen by a child psychologist or pediatric psychiatrist. Parents who see that their child is overwhelmed by social anxiety can have the child’s pediatrician or doctor make a referral to a mental health professional for assessment.

When to Get Involved in Your Child’s Social Life

Everyone has social challenges – even adults! It’s not surprising then, that kids have plenty of social issues. Sometimes they fight with others, sometimes others fight with them. Sometimes they are bullied. Sometimes they are rejected. Often, they experience some kind of shyness, insecurity or even social anxiety. Kids form cliques; there’s the in-crowd and the out-crowd. There’s peer pressure to contend with. The challenges are endless! Parents often worry about their kids, naturally wishing to save them from the pain that can be caused by social problems. When should parents step in? When should they stay back?

If you’re not sure whether or not to get involved in your child’s social life, consider the following tips:

Consider Whether or Your Child Does or Does Not NEED Your Help
Saving your child from pain is not the only consideration you should have. Keep in mind that a little pain is tolerable for children and it might even be a useful source of learning and positive development. Instead of rushing to rescue your child from a difficult social situation, ask yourself whether or not your child is able to rescue him or herself. How old is your youngster? Two year olds usually have limited resources. If a bigger child is teasing them or – worse – hurting them, they are sure to need adult intervention. On the other hand, if another two year old is not being nice to them, it is possible that they can find ways to defend themselves or solve the problem on their own (i.e. move away or frighten the offender). Similarly, older kids can usually learn to handle everyday difficulties perpetrated by their same-age peers. Being bullied, however, is a different story. When there is a serious emotional or physical threat, adults usually do need to step in.

If you feel that your child lacks the skills to solve a social problem, it’s preferable to provide the skills rather than to solve the problem for her. For instance, suppose your 10 year-old daughter is the only girl in the class who has not been invited to a classmate’s sleepover party. Your child is devastated. You might be tempted to call the classmate’s mother and let her know how your daughter feels. However, why not help your daughter to tackle the problem herself? She can either speak to the girl directly or write a brief note. For instance, “Dear Sue, I know that you are having a sleepover party and have invited everyone in the class except me. I know that you and I are not really friends, but I don’t think we are enemies either. If I had a party, I would invite you if I was inviting everyone else. I know you are a good person and you would never purposely hurt anybody. I’m sure you did not realize how much this would embarrass me and hurt my feelings. I haven’t spoken to anyone about it. I am wondering if you could change your mind and invite me to the party. I would be happy to bring some snacks along for all the girls and I would really be so grateful to you for including me. Sincerely, Tanya.” If “Sue” doesn’t change her mind, then you would help your child come to terms with the fact that there are mean people in the world. You would help her to learn from this how important it is to include everyone.

Helping your child find a way to deal with a social challenge is appropriate when your child has the necessary communication skills (like the ability to write a short letter). A younger child will need more of your help and often, more parent-to-parent intervention. A teenager can almost always be taught what to do and do it by him or herself.

Choosing Your Child’s Friends
Children choose their own friends. However, parents can make introductions. Parents often move into a specific neighborhood or choose a specific school in order to provide certain kinds of friends for their kids. Parents may also make play-dates for toddlers, preschoolers and other very young children. However, children decide who they like and don’t like. This poses a challenge for parents as the kids get older. Some children choose friends that their parents don’t approve of. Sometimes, parents feel that a particular child is having a bad influence on their own child. In such cases, parents often attempt to discourage the friendships in one way or another – sometimes even forbidding associations out of school. The problem with this approach is that forbidden relationships are all the more tempting. Moreover, it’s not the child’s fault that he or she is drawn to the wrong crowd. Preferences for people are made at the subconscious level; something draws a child to another person or group of people. If you think that your child is making poor choices, try to help your child’s inner world. The healthier a child is psychologically, the healthier choices he or she will make in friends. To bolster your child’s psychological health, make sure you follow the 80-20 Rule (See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe) – or the 90-10 Rule for teens. This ratio ensures that you have a positive, warm, loving relationship with your child and this is very conducive for your child’s emotional health. Reduce anger and criticism to nearly zero! The more your child likes you and identifies with you, the more he or she will choose friends that YOU would approve of.  If you feel that you must forbid a particular social connection, then make sure you explain exactly why to your child. Make sure that your child experiences your love, rather than your controlling side. For instance, instead of “I absolutely forbid you to see Terry again.” try, “I know how much you enjoy being with Terry. However, I have to ask you not to spend any more time with Terry because you are learning things that can get you into serious trouble. I feel that I have to help you stay away from this person and if I find that you are spending time with Terry, you and I will have to talk about negative consequences. I hope that you know how much I love you and I hope that by now, you trust my judgment.” When you have a good relationship with your child (which is why the 80-20 Rule is vital), you have much more power to influence your child’s choices.

If Your Child Mismanages Friendships
Sometimes you may feel that your child is mishandling a social relationship. You want him or her to strengthen a friendship but your child seems to be careless, not bothering to treat the friend properly. You worry that the child will lose the friend; perhaps you even lose sleep over it. It’s fine for parents to offer their child information. For instance, go ahead and talk to your child about how friendships are built and maintained. Explain your concerns about his or her current behavior. However, be mindful not to repeat yourself. Assume that your child heard you the first time! If your child does not choose to heed you advice and, as a consequence, loses the friendship, he or she will know better for next time. No matter who this friend is, he or she is NOT the only human left on the planet. Your child can make other friends. Even if this particular person was an excellent kid, the best you could hope for in a child’s friend, keep in mind that there are other good kids out there. You simply cannot control your child to the extent that you run his or her social life. Instead of trying to do so, give your “normal” child credit where credit is due: he or she can learn to build relationships in his or her own good time.

Sometimes, parents find themselves worrying far into the night about their child’s friends and relationships. In this case, professional consultation might help to determine whether there really is something to worry about and if so what sort of interventions and strategies might be helpful.

Child Doesn’t Want to Include Siblings with Friends

Understandably, siblings don’t always want to share the same set of friends. This is particularly true when siblings have a big age difference between them. However, there are practical issues to contend with. What happens when an 8 year-old child invites a friend to play and the child’s 6 year-old sister wants to join in the game? What happens when twins have friends over – do they get to have individual relationships or must they share all their social contacts? When one child in the family is happily occupied with a friend, what is the parent’s obligation to the child who is left out? Must Mom provide personal entertainment?

The following are some tips in handling the situation when your child doesn’t want siblings to join his or her social arrangements:

Respect Your Children’s Right to Make Social Arrangements
From the very beginning, it’s important that parents give their children privacy and autonomy in arranging their social life. Having friends is important to anyone, and social skills are something that will serve a child throughout his or her life. Ideally, each child in the family should learn how to invite friends over and how to be a good host or hostess, instead of relying on their siblings to provide them with social stimulation. Often it is possible to have each child invite a friend on a given afternoon. For instance, you might set aside Sunday afternoons for playtime in which you expect your kids to find a friend to invite and/or allow them to go out to their friends’ houses (or, when older, out with their friends). Children who are not in the mood to put in the effort to make this happen must arrange their own schedule of activities rather than impose on their sibling’s social engagement. For instance, another child can work on puzzles, play on the computer, read or whatever. It is NOT necessary for the parent to provide entertainment. However, if the lonely child has tried to make social plans that just didn’t work out, there is nothing wrong with the parent pitching in to help liven up the afternoon (i.e. set up a special video, engage the child in a baking activity in the kitchen, or even take the child on an outing). When the left-out sibling in question is too young to make his or her own social arrangements, the parent should try to make such arrangements or provide activities for that child to participate in while siblings are busy with their friends.

But Also Encourage Generosity and Kindness
That being said, encourage your children to recognize and affirm a sibling’s request to be part of their social life. On occasion, it may be possible, as an act of kindness, for a sibling to allow other kids in the family to join in his or her social activity. In fact, sometimes it’s a case of “the more, the merrier.” Certain games are more fun with more people in them. While a child is certainly entitled to private time with his or her friend, he or she can also invite a sib or two to play along for at least a small part of the visit. Encouraging kids to think of each other’s needs and to be kind to each other is important. You probably don’t want to raise selfish children who only think of their own needs. You can show your kids that they can meet their own needs AND also make others happy – it’s not a contradiction.

Encourage your Children to Make Time for One Another
If it’s not really possible to include a sibling in a social arrangement, then perhaps a separate arrangement can be made that would accommodate the said sibling. After all, while we have a right to choose our friends, it’s also great to spend time with our family. So encourage your children to make time for each other. A family day is a good idea; kids can spend time with the friends of their choosing on some days, while they can spend time with their siblings for another.