Social Anxiety Treatment for Child

Updated on September 27, 2011
M.S. asks from Chicago, IL
4 answers

Hi all,

I'm fairly sure my son has social anxiety disorder. He has refused to participate in several social activities at his new school (working in groups at school, gym class, swimming class) - usually when someone unfamiliar takes part in the social activity. He shuts down and does not talk (which may possibly be selective mutism). I no longer think it is excessive shyness because this behavior is affecting his participation in a wide range of activities. This has been going on in some form since my son was two.

We are in the process of locating a specialist who can treat him for social anxiety.

I'd like to hear from other moms who have had their children treated for social anxiety. What therapies/treatments did you use? Were they successful? Thanks in advance.

1 mom found this helpful

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for the responses. My son is 6 and is in first grade. A lot of these issues are much more intense now because he started at a new school which is bigger than the preschool/kindergarten he was at before (and he had been there almost three years).

Thanks again!

More Answers



answers from Chicago on

A successful treatment for your son will depend largely on what his specific issue is.

But what has worked for us is a lot of playacting. We always start with using toys like a Barbie doll, or for your son some kind of person toy. You would start by making up a situation (like joining a new group). Have your son be a member of the group and you be the new person. Go over different things that everyone could say. Start gentle with lots of positive reactions. Then when your son feels comfortable, have him be the "new" person toy and you be a member of the group.

Over a period of time when your son gets used to this "game" you could slowly introduce more uncomfortable situations that your son may encounter. If he's comfortable enough, you could find out what his fears are. Maybe he's not sure what to do or where to sit. Handle each fear gently by you first demonstrating with the toy what to do (and having him be a member of the group, or even the group leader) and then he gets to try it with the toy.

Don't be afraid to be a little bit silly with the game sometimes and keep it light and fun.

Once he's more comfortable with that, you can go on to straight playacting. You be the new person, he gets to be a member of the group. You demonstrate what to do. Then let him try it. Eventually he'll feel more comfortable.

You don't need to play the game for a long period of time, and you don't have to do it every day. If he isn't really in the mood, don't force it. Be sure to stop the game at a high point each time, like when he does a good job or starts laughing.

This has always worked for my daughter in resolving all her social issues, whether it be a bully, her being shy or not knowing how to handle something. It's to the point now when she's uncomfortable or doesn't know how to handle something she will bring me the Barbie dolls and say "this girl said something and I didn't know what to do, can I show you?" Then we'll act it out with Barbies.

I don't know that this is a solution for your son, but if he is just really shy it should help. If it's something more, a specialist may be needed. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Clarksville on

My son has behaved in a similar manner but he has Asperger's and since his diagnosis has been eligible for Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA therapy. He was unaware how to interact socially with his peer group which affected his participation in group settings and his self confidence. The ABA therapy pushes the envelope for him socially and he handles these situations much better now. I would guess ABA therapy could be used for your son as well. Best of luck to you.




answers from Chicago on

My son has selective mutism. Was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (he is a sensory avoider) when he was 2.5 years old. He was scared of the world and completely overwhealmed by particularly tactile and visual sensory stimuli which especially included people as people are a lot less predictable than inanimate objects. About a year later, we knew when he began preschool especially that he clearly has selective mutism as well. Now he is doing excellent with sensory, only extreme picky eating seems to be lingering from that, so social is our big focus now. He has come amazingly far in the past couple years with it. I'm not sure how old your son is, I'm guessing at least kindergarten by the activities you mentioned. My son is in kindergarten now. I'll pass on some articles to you on selective mutism and how best to address it in a classroom environment and such if you'd like to email me general idea is to normalize things for him as much as you possibly can. Not to force him to talk, but to make sure to let him know that he CAN talk when he is ready to. It's natural for kids to want to talk and communicate so holding things in takes a lot of work/energy for them and yet with selective mutism, they physically cannot talk in certain instances because the anxiety shuts them down. Some other things that really help is visiting the school often outside of class with your family even if it's just to the playground so he's able to become more comfortable with the place on his own terms with family who he is all comfortable with. If you could have playdates with kids from his class, that has helped us IMMENSELY. He began talking to the child who he's played with at home first and a WHOLE lot sooner than he ever talked in preschool! With the child coming to his own house, he opened up right away, granted a couple years ago that was not the case, it took time for him to speak/open up to anybody new at home. When he was real little, he even had issues when dad came home from work and still often has separation anxiety from me sometimes even when I leave him home with dad or grandparents. You can talk to the teacher/school about getting a IEP or 504 plan I think it's called. My son has an IEP that was started in preschool when he had the sensory issues as well, but the social component is the big emphasis they are working on now. It gets the specialists at the school involved in helping and allows for special needs in the classroom to be addressed. It's a great support system, even if you do need to keep on them a bit with things your child is struggling with. I know in preschool my son had a class schedule that allowed him to physically keep track of the routine of the day and that really helped him open up and ease some anxiety, helping him to keep track of where he's at and what to expect. My son worked with an OT privately when he was 3 and then at the school when he was 4 until he hit some kind of sound in his music therapy that did not go over well with him for some reason. He then wanted nothing to do with OT at all as the music therapy (listened to therapy cds on headphones that are supposed to strategically stimulate portions of the brain I guess) was in the OT room. At the same time, music therapy has been a huge blessing to somebody else in the district that the OT set us up to confer with who also has a child with selective mutism. So much is trial and error of what therapy/treatment works well for your individual child. My kindergartener has a brother in 2nd grade who is also a HUGE help to my kindergartener encouraging my kindergartener and helping to draw him out more than I am able myself. I always say how thankful I am that the one was born before the other, as my 7 year old is such a huge help to my almost 6 year old. I'm considering a psychologist now for my son...though not sure he'd talk with one. He LOVED his private OT when he "played at OT class". When he was evaluated by a pediatric neuropsychologist I think it was, to rule out aspergers, the doctor said it's clearly sensory processing disorder, along with selective mutism. Could do tests to figure out the whys and see if anything would help medically but those tests most often come back negative without a clear conclusion he said, so emphasized that just patience and perseverence in addressing the needs that come up are the thing to do. Feel free to contact me more on it if you'd like. It feels like a long road, and yet the progress made is really exciting. Often feels like 2 steps forward, one step back, but how encouraging it is at times like when my son started kindergarten that anxiety was extremely high and then after it started he suddenly took about 50 steps forward. Not yet speaking comfortably in class by any stretch, but pretty independant and actually wispering to other kids and even answering one word answers to the teacher which is huge for him so early in the year and at a new school! Hang in there, therapists are excellent for giving ideas on what you could do to help your son, but needs change over time and such, so most of it is really how you help him to approach life. OT, psychologists, hippotherapy (horses), play therapy, etc. could all help depending on your childs needs at the time. Best wishes to you!!



answers from Chicago on

How old is your son?

My son is similar to this. He is in preschool (3 years old) and refuses to talk to the other kids. It's a month in now, and he will parallel play if the teacher puts him in a learning center with another child.

I do know a girl with selective mutism who goes to a wonderful speech therapist (that my older son also sees). Not sure where you are in Chicago, but she is in Oak Park. If you are interested in her name and number, email me privately. I know her schedule is pretty tight right now though. Was looking at getting my 3 year old in with her, and we decided to hold off until January to see if things improve at school.

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