Parenting with Social Anxiety: What’s Normal and Ways to Cope

Parenting is a rewarding but often challenging journey. When you add social anxiety into the mix, things can become even more overwhelming. Social anxiety can make everyday parenting tasks difficult. Attending school events, coordinating playdates, interacting with other parents – all these can seem like insurmountable obstacles. But there’s good news. By understanding the root causes and finding support, you can learn to cope with your social anxiety and navigate the challenges that anxiety may bring to your parenting journey. 

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What is social anxiety?

First, let’s start with some basics. Social anxiety is a fear of social situations due to concerns about being embarrassed or judged. Some level of social anxiety is normal and expected. After all, anxiety serves as our body’s internal fire alarm, and there are times when we want it to go off. 

Sometimes, though, social anxiety can be more severe and end up impeding on your quality of life. Your social anxiety might prevent you from doing the things you want or need to do. In these cases, social anxiety can become problematic. It’s crucial to remember that social anxiety does not make you a bad parent – it just means that some activities may be more challenging for you.

The challenges of parenting with social anxiety

Parenting is a demanding job that requires near constant social interaction, and parent-to-parent interactions can be unsettling even for the most confident of us. It can feel awkward to walk up to a mom at the playground and ask for her number, or to show up to a birthday party where you don’t know anyone. Being placed into these kinds of social relationships can feel uncomfortable, and for parents with social anxiety, the fear of being judged or criticized can make everyday parenting tasks feel impossible. 

For example, attending school events can trigger intense panic for parents with social anxiety. The thought of being surrounded by other parents and having to engage in small talk can be daunting. 

Playdates can also be anxiety-inducing, as they often involve interacting with other parents who may have different parenting styles or values. These situations can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, making it difficult for parents with social anxiety to feel confident in their parenting abilities.

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Strategies to manage social anxiety in parenthood (and beyond!)

While social anxiety can feel overwhelming, there are strategies you can employ to manage your anxiety in parenting situations. The first step in treating any kind of anxiety is awareness

Begin to create a list of situations where you feel more (or less) anxious. Consider these questions: What is going on for you in those moments? What thoughts are you having? How does your body feel? Observing and getting to know your anxiety helps you understand how to best manage it.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate social interactions with confidence:

1. Challenge negative thoughts: Social anxiety often stems from negative thoughts and self-doubt. Learn to challenge these thoughts by asking yourself if they are logical or based on evidence. 

When someone has social anxiety, they often also have an internal script of what might go wrong in a given situation. Ask yourself if these thoughts are helpful or true. Maybe you want to ask a fellow parent to attend a neighborhood event with you, but you’re having doubts.. Examine the evidence – why would she think I am a loser? It makes sense to ask her to come, because our kids are friends. 

Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations and remind yourself of your strengths as a parent. Validate your feelings while encouraging yourself to keep moving forward: It is okay that I am anxious and I can do it. I’ve done it before.

2. Prepare in advance: If certain social situations trigger your anxiety, prepare in advance by planning what you will say or do. Having a script or a mental checklist can help alleviate some of the uncertainty and anxiety associated with social interactions.

3. Take small steps: Gradually expose yourself to social situations that make you anxious, and learn that you can handle it. To practice an exposure, start by making a hierarchy of things that make you anxious. Perhaps at the bottom you have things like “sit at the park while my child plays” or “speak up in a PTA meeting,” and at the top you have more anxiety-producing situations like “set up a playdate for my child.”

Practice engaging in these scenarios, starting at the bottom and working your way up. By breaking down the idea of social anxiety into individual tasks or experiences, the hope is that you build your tolerance and capacity for social interaction.

Will my child inherit my social anxiety?

One of the most common concerns socially anxious parents have is whether they will pass down the anxiety to their child. While it is true that there is a genetic predisposition to social anxiety, there is no guarantee that children will inherit it. 

Some parents have guilt related to their difficulties in engaging in certain activities, or are worried that they are sending the wrong signals about social interactions to their children. Feeling socially anxious doesn’t mean that you are failing as a parent, and there are things that socially anxious parents can actively do to support their child in learning adaptive ways to manage social anxiety:

  1. Consider what you are modeling to your child. Children learn the most from watching you. If you scream every time you see a dog, they might come to learn that dogs are scary and to be avoided. Similarly, if you avoid texting a mom friend, children may internalize the message that social outreach is threatening. 
  2. It is okay for your child to see you anxious sometimes. Try to model coping skills you use to tolerate that anxiety. I’m feeling anxious about asking her dad a question, so I’m going to take a few deep breaths and remind myself that I can do it. Naming your own feelings is one of the most important things you can do to support your child’s social-emotional growth. 
  3. Finally, you can teach your children social skills, like how to initiate a conversation or how to ask a polite question, so that they can feel equipped to manage peer interactions. 
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Professional resources for parents with social anxiety

Parenting with social anxiety is undoubtedly challenging, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone.  If you feel like your social anxiety is getting in the way, seeking out treatment is one of the best things you can do for you and your family. A mental health professional can support parents by providing tools and techniques to manage social anxiety and improve your overall well-being. 

Click here for a free consultation call to learn more about how the clinicians at Upshur Bren Psychology Group can help you manage your social anxiety as a parent.

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