Hello, I am looking for some direction in how to deal with my highly introverted 14-year-old daughter. She is very artistic, would much rather spend time drawing or painting then go out with friends. Yesterday we took her and her brother to a political event that was very crowded. We were in a crowd of about 800 people, and my sweet teenager had a panic attack. I took her to the med room and they let her sit, it took about a half hour for her to get normal breathing, etc. I have always tried to encourage to do things out of her comfort zone, and had no idea that she would have a reaction like she did in that crowd. As a mom I feel terrible for putting her in a situation she could not handle. Can you recommend any reading material I can look to for tips on helping a young girl cope with social anxiety?
Thank you so much, and God Bless!
Mom of Introvert
Dear Mom of Introvert –
Your daughter sounds lovely. And- good for her for not wanting to go out and be with friends but instead choose to be home with her family. This tells me that she feels very secure at home- you must be doing a great job. Think about something for a moment- many 14 year olds can’t wait to leave home and be with their friends because they don’t like their parents. You have the opposite situation and you’re worried!
Here’s what I would do. First, buy her more art supplies. Talk to her about feeling anxious at the large gathering. Tell her that many people feel nervous, sweaty and light-headed when they are in large crowds and that her feelings don’t mean that something’s terribly wrong with her. This way, you are communicating that she can be in charge of her anxiety, not vice-versa.
Then, ask her to paint or draw how it feels to be anxious. Tell her that you are grateful she is gifted to express herself through art and ask her to let loose on the canvas or paper. Also- tell her that her drawings are private and that you won’t look if she doesn’t want you to see them. Many artists also like to write. If she does, ask her to keep a “worry journal.” Make sure this is private. This way, she can write down any worries or fears. Half of the battle for many people with anxiety is getting those feelings identified and externalized. Both of these activities will help her.
Over the next months, challenge her to go with you to places where there will be small crowds of people- perhaps a restaurant or a mall. Make sure that she knows that she can exit anytime. Then, as she gets more comfortable, take her to even larger crowds. This way, you help her desensitize to being around a lot of people. If you find that she isn’t getting better and her anxiety getting worse, find a good counselor who is trained in cognitive behavior therapy with children. This will really help her get over her anxiety.
In the meantime, don’t make light of her anxiety, but don’t make a huge issue of it either. When parents over focus on problems, they give problems power in the children’s eyes and that is not something that you want to do with your daughter- especially with anxiety. She needs to learn that yes, she has it, but that she is very capable of getting it under control.