My 12 year old daughter is struggling with anxiety at the moment. She is nervous of going to friends’ houses, and of activities starting back up. When we are in the car on the way to something and she is upset or is begging me not to leave what’s the best course of action? If she is crying she obviously then doesn’t want to go in or have her friends see that. I really want to get it sorted before school resumes or before she drops activities she normally loves. I’d appreciate any advice you can give.
I wonder if your daughter has always had a “slow to warm up” temperament in which she may have been nervous about attending events, needing time to become accustomed to something before her anxiety soothes enough to get involved.
If so, then Coronavirus may have exacerbated that. It is worth talking with your daughter about the virus and the fears she may have. She may have experienced increased security and reassurance from being at home with you, in lockdown, and felt “safe” from the virus and any other external pressures or stresses.
The focus of that conversation is to allow you to understand how she feels about her own worries now, such that you can work out if the anxiety she has is primarily Covid-19 related, or is related more to the social nature of the events she is nervous about. You can use empathy statements to guess at the kinds of fears you think she has.
Once the nature of her anxiety is clear to you and to her, she then needs to learn some kinds of relaxation techniques that can help her to regulate any anxiety, reducing the intensity. Having effective relaxation strategies will give her the confidence to know she can cope and manage, even if she gets anxious.
Armed with a way to calm herself, you and she can then explore the specific situations that she feels anxious in, and come up with practical ways in which she can deal with those situations. For example, she might use positive self-talk to remind herself that she is well able to be social and to have fun with her friends. Or, if it is Covid-19 related, you can work out ways to reduce the risk (reminding her about hand-washing and not being too close to her friends for too long).
Armed then with a strategy to calm herself down, and the reminders of her ability to succeed in social situations, she can set up a series of behavioural experiments for herself (with your help). Those experiments need to be achievable. For example, rather than going to a friend’s house, on her own, for a few hours, plan to visit a friend for just 30 minutes, or an hour, while you stay and have a cuppa with the other mum.
Your presence then, is the short-term buffer she might need for the visit or the activity to feel like a success. When she is more comfortable with doing those things while you are nearby, you can begin to wean her off your presence, perhaps popping to the shop for a while during a visit or an activity. Again, the goal is that she should feel okay enough to stay such that you can reinforce her success at being on her own. A slow, gradual, approach to getting used to expanding her social and physical environment may be the best way to help her feel like her “experiments” can bolster her confidence.