Face Fear Head On
Desensitization is part of cognitive therapy. By exposing the teen to anxiety triggers and allowing them to work through the panic, the child will be able to face their fears. Practice, patience and repetition are important. Desensitization does not guarantee that there will not be a relapse but arms the teen with anxiety fighting behaviors.
Have the teens write a list of sites or activities that cause them the most angst. Some signs of anxiety may appear while your teen is making this list because just the thought of approaching these activities can cause apprehension. Do not tackle each event or activity all at once. Methodical tactics combined with patience increase the odds of success in helping your child deal with social anxiety.
Start out slowly. Begin with the least anxious activity on the teen’s list. Prepare your teen with deep breathing exercises, gum or hard candy. Sucking or chewing on a piece of candy eliminates dry mouth and helps regulate breathing patterns.
Example: Eating in Public Desensitization Exercise
Start at a fast food restaurant. Encourage your teen to approach the counter and order alone. Do not overload your teen’s already heightened senses by inviting several people. It is best for the teen and one or two parents to begin this exercise.
At the first sign of angst, encourage your teen to practice breathing techniques. Remind your teen beforehand that breathing techniques are silent weapons. Breathing techniques are discreet and inconspicuous to others.
Encourage your teen to eat slowly, chewing each bite several times. Chewing helps regulate breathing patterns and allows the teen to concentrate on something other than those around them.
Words of encouragement from the parent must be given in a manner so as not to draw attention to the teen.
Engage in small-talk. Do not discuss distressing world events or problems at home. This exercise focuses on the issue at hand. Discuss the people around you, their clothing and their mannerisms, or play trivia games. Remove the focus from the teen and invite the world in slowly.
Keep a Log or Diary of Exercises
After completing the exercise, have your teen keep a log or diary of the experience. Encourage them to log the date of the excursion, the place, and the anxiety level experienced. Keeping a log helps your child understand his or her anxiety triggers and gauge improvement.
Slowly, increase the level of anxiety-filled situations. Reward your teen for accomplishing an anxiety-filled task. Rewards do not need to be large or opulent, they can be as simple as choosing a movie to watch on TV, an extra hour of video-games, a sleep-over with a friend, or an activity of their choosing.
Practice is essential. Remember, relapses are common. The more the teen practices, the less intense the relapse will be. Remind your child that setbacks are normal and will lessen in time. Do not stop venturing out on bigger and more intense social activities as progress indicates.