5 top tips for helping your teen manage their social anxiety

For many young people, social situations – whether it’s going to school, birthday parties, or a sporting event – can be a very overwhelming and intimidating situation for even the most confident, outgoing teen, but for the quiet, shy, or anxious teen, it can be an exceptionally scary situation. 

My experience of dealing with my social anxiety was that I wished my parents would accept me for myself and wouldn’t get frustrated at me for being ‘different’ from other teens. I needed them to validate my feelings during my anxiety at social situations instead of downplaying them all the time. 

I’m writing this blog to try to help you support your own child’s anxiety during the challenges of social situations.

How can you help your child manage their social anxiety?

It can be heart-breaking to watch your teen struggle in social situations, especially when these situations are meant to be fun and exciting for your child, but these are a few ideas that myself and research has shown to be helpful in supporting your child’s social anxiety – paired with heapfuls of love and patience.

#1 When to give an encouraging push to socialise, and when to dial it down

For me, there was an appropriate time where I needed an encouraging nudge from my parents to attend school, a social event, birthday party or even just mix with other people on public transport; and times where I felt them just adding an overwhelming pressure to do something against my wishes. 

There would be days where my anxiety would feel more like a numbing pressure and other days where the stress would mount to physical symptoms – such as having panic attacks, sickness, headaches, dizziness, feeling claustrophobic, and other scary symptoms. These happened on days where the idea of social interactions or situations would make my anxiety feel out of control. In those moments, I needed my parents to calm me down and help me feel safe again, instead of pushing me to do something I didn't feel equipped for. There has to be a middle ground.

What could the middle ground be? There needs to be a balance of a gentle push of encouragement and making sure your teen feels secure in overwhelming times. This can be a long process with many meltdowns but understanding that every child is unique in their social anxiety journey can help you support a pace that will best support your teen.

#2 Praise each little step 

My parents had really unrealistic expectations about my social anxiety and thought if I could just ‘do it’ once then there was no excuse to not be able to do it again. Social anxiety is not a direct line of recovery – there will be days where your teen may be able to get involved in social situations with seemingly no issues, and other days where they will avoid it at all costs. That’s okay and praising every little achievement – no matter how small it seems, will give them the support and encouragement to take little steps out of their comfort zone every day. 

How can you help your teen take these small steps? What I found helpful for my social anxiety was:

  • Lots of my anxiety was because of a fear of what might happen in a social situation. Fear of the unknown. I found that planning out the details of scary social situations gave me a sense of security and control rather than going into the situation ‘blindly’ – this included planning the route to get there or having my parents drive. 
  • Arriving early – getting to know the environment without anyone else there made it easier to settle in before other people joined later.
  • Observing the situation before getting involved – this helped me feel more comfortable about meeting new people and having an expectation of what I needed to do in that situation.

Either way, navigating the situation by your teens' terms and providing encouragement can be the best tool to keep their social anxiety at ease. 

#3 Having a friend for support

Most of the time, I leaned on my best friend for support during my most anxious time periods. Having the familiarity and comfortability of my best friend when my social anxiety was heightened made me feel more at ease in entering social situations I couldn’t do alone. 

This ranged from taking part in sports teams, meeting new people, getting public transport, during exams, or even walking to school at times. 

My friend provided a sense of security whilst I was attempting to go out of my comfort zone and knew how to calm me down during these anxious situations, which I was incredibly grateful for. Not only does it provide comfort and security but having a friend that understood and was empathetic to the challenges of my social anxiety, when my parents couldn’t give me that, was a tremendous help in my recovery.

#4 Work with their school 

School can be a stressful and anxiety inducing environment for some teens. Between making new friends, being away from home, exams and homework, school has many stresses that can trigger your child’s social anxiety. 

Reach out to your child’s school and ask for help and support for your child’s anxiety in school situations. My parents didn’t really understand or provide support for my anxiety, but my therapist worked in collaboration with the school to provide guidance and support during my overwhelming anxious moments:

I’d encourage your child or teen to:

  • Raise any issues that are making school difficult, for me this included presentations, exams, certain teachers, and needing a safe space on days I couldn’t handle my anxious feelings.
  • Work with their form tutors and key staff – they would check in on me and we agreed on new strategies to make things easier for me in lessons.
  • Identify a safe space by myself or with a trusted tutor for overbearing anxious moments – after a panic attack to calm down or rest as I was physically and mentally drained – this was of great help to me.
  • Help teachers understand your child’s boundaries – this includes not being forced to read out loud, or having alternative assessments to suit my needs, or rearrangements in my exams such as being in a room instead of the exam hall, choosing where I’m sat in the exam hall. 
  • Have break-times or leave the classroom when they need time alone from external stresses.

These helped ease my anxiety or supported the after effects of my panic attacks in school, and these can be super helpful for other teens with similar stresses.

#5 Create coping strategies with your teen

Anxiety can be very tiring and stressful for all young people, which can start to affect their everyday activities. When my social anxiety got unbearable at times, a weight was taken off my mind when I used certain coping strategies to express and manage my anxious feelings. Talking to your child and creating ideas to help ease their anxiety in stressful situations can make the biggest difference. 

Some ideas that really helped me before and after my anxiety attacks were:

  • Hanging out with my friends 
  • Listening to my favourite music
  • Reading a book
  • Playing a sport or exercising 
  • Baking 
  • Watching my comfort films
  • Planning my routine to give me a sense of security
  • Writing in my journal – when I felt anxious, I would write my thoughts down to stop myself getting too overwhelmed
  • Having a self-care kit – filled with all the things that help me calm down during my most anxious moments, such as a hot water bottle, bath bombs, lavender sprays, stress ball, photos of happy memories, and candles
  • More coping techniques can be found here.


SIGN-UP FOR OUR FREE ONLINE COURSE where we coach you to play a key role supporting your child’s healing & recovery; their journey back to health and happiness: www.youthmentalhealthfoundation.org/onlinecourse 

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE BOOKLET and learn how a mother led her self-harming teenage child back to health & happiness: www.YouthMentalHealthFoundation.org/e-boo

We will be publishing an article in our blog very soon - so watch this space.


Research and Community Executive
Youth Mental Health Foundation CIC


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