Close this search box.


Step Out of the Shadows: Confronting Social Anxiety

Link to the Episode

Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to another episode of Wellness Curated. This is your host, Anshu Bahanda. And as you know, I present you with ideas, trends, tools and techniques which will help you lead a healthier, happier, more hopeful life. This season we’re focusing on social well being. And as COVID showed us, we’re all social animals. Our topic for today’s discussion is social anxiety, specifically in children. Now, we know that it can be heartbreaking for parents when their children are going through social anxiety. Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is when someone’s afraid of being watched and judged by others. And it often starts between the age of eight and 15 in kids. And this fear can make it hard for people to do things at school, at work, and lead their daily lives. We have with us today a very special guest, Jonathan Alderson, who is an innovator of autism treatments. Now, he wrote a book called Challenging the Myths of Autism. He’s the founder of Thrive Guide, a platform created to help families with children who have autism. Jonathan has worked with over 2000 children and their families for more than 20 years. Welcome to the Chat Jonathan, and thank you for being here with us today.

Jonathan Alderson: Thank you Anshu. Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me. I’m looking forward to our conversation.

AB: You’re welcome. Now Jonathan, can I start by asking you to explain social anxiety to us? And in your experience, how does it present itself differently in children?

JA: Sure. Well, you gave a pretty good definition at the beginning, but I think that a good place for your listeners who might not have come across social anxiety directly is to first of all think about a time in your own life when you felt maybe a bit shy. It might be when you were going to meet someone new, maybe a long, long time ago, when you’re going on a date, for example, or you might have been asked to stand up by a teacher in a classroom to answer a question and you had the feeling that everyone was watching you and everyone was judging you. So now if you can think of a feeling like that, and multiply that feeling by ten times, or even 100 times, that feeling that everyone’s watching you and judging you and shaming you, then you could just start to understand a little bit about what people with social anxiety are experiencing. But for people with this disorder, with this really debilitating experience, it’s an ongoing and pervasive fear that isn’t just restricted to a single time or a single event, but it’s something that fills their mind, their thoughts throughout the day, that they might even be anticipating weeks in advance, an event. And it might even be an event like just going into a restaurant to have a meal. And so this fear of being in social situations really starts to get in the way of them being able to do just basic daily tasks like taking a bus, getting in a cab or a taxi, or going to meet friends or going grocery shopping. And so this is where we have the sense of social anxiety disorder, and in its most extreme cases, Anshu, it would be people who just stay at home and almost refuse to go outside again for the fear of, as you said, sort of being judged or humiliated socially. 

AB: I have some friends, not a lot, but I have some friends where I’ve seen this. And what I find is when you force them to get out, they actually enjoy themselves. But it’s that process of taking the first step which is hard. So I want to ask you something. Is there a way of preventing this in a child? Is there a way that we can get to it before it becomes an issue? Just like with dogs. I mean, I am going to use the example of dogs. You socialise a dog when it’s young so that it’s used to being around other dogs. You socialise children when they’re young. You take them to all these classes. Does that help?

JA: Well, the short answer is yes and no in this sense, which is you’re sort of looking at what might cause it, is what you’re sort of angling at a little bit. And if we believe that it’s caused simply by the environment, then you’re right that there’s a possibility that if you raise a child in a particular way, in a particular environment, that you may be able to “prevent that.” But it’s not so clear cut as that because there are children and young adults and adults who were raised in wonderful families, very loving families, and where there wasn’t necessarily an acute event that led them to feel this way. Social Anxiety Disorder— if we just step back for a moment, let me just say that first of all, it’s among what we call a spectrum disorder. And so there’s really quite a wide range of the functioning and ability and degree to which people would suffer from a social anxiety disorder. There’s a very broad range, in the way that it might manifest. And so social anxiety, people who experience more intense social anxiety are prone to feeling sort of like nervous and anxious, as I said, for weeks in advance, and just to go on a rational level, to appeal to the rational mind and say, ‘Hey, there’s kind of nothing to be worried about. Let’s just go out and try.’ You were mentioning some friends that you might sort of just get them going, let’s say, right? If you have a diagnosis of social anxiety, it’s really just not that simple. And in part it’s because the fears that they have are, in quotes, ‘irrational’. Meaning they might feel if I go grocery shopping, everyone’s going to look at what I’m wearing and everyone’s going to laugh at me and it will be highly embarrassing. Now, the rational fact is probably very few people are going to be watching you because they are also shopping for groceries or they’re focused on their own children, something like that. And yet they have this intense fear and they’re very convinced. So just telling them or talking to them or forcing them if you will, to do that, often backfires. 

I’ll give you just a quick example. I worked with a 21 year old woman several years ago, and I remember how much she was perseveratively thinking about her brother’s upcoming wedding in the summer. It was three months away when I was working with her. And she talked over and over and over with her mother, with her brother, with me, with other people in her family about who is going to be sitting at the table with her at the wedding. Now, this is again three months away, but she would play out scenarios on, well, ‘what will they say and what should I say if they say that? And what if they ask me what I’ve been doing and I haven’t been working and they’re going to laugh at me and there really wasn’t an opportunity for anyone.’ I certainly tried a little bit to rationalise with her. So that’s not really an approach that we take. I will get into it, if you’d like, how we approach it. But one thing that can help that you’re talking about a little bit when you say just to get them going is something that we call exposure therapy or systematic desensitisation. And so this is a psychology from psychology. It’s an approach that psychologists use where you might have someone just start a little bit, not appealing to their logic necessarily, but more to their senses. For this young lady, for example, one thing I did is I had her sit in the comfort of her home, in the comfort of a place where she was not at the wedding. And I had her just imagine, as she already was, but I had her imagine a conversation that someone would have with her. So we sat together, but I had her deeply relaxed. So I had her take deep breaths. Again, she was in a safe space. She was in her home and just with me. Her mother was in the other room. So it gave her comfort. And I asked her to imagine a conversation. And we actually, if you will, went there. We actually, in her mind and in a real conversation, went into a conversation that might occur. And so I would say, ‘what do you imagine someone might ask you?’ And she said, ‘Oh, they might ask me if I have a job and if I’m employed.’ And I said, ‘Okay, would it be okay with you if I was that person for a moment? We’re right here and you can stop at any time.’ So she has control. And again, we started to have this conversation and at each successive back and forth, if you will, I would check in with her and say, ‘how are you feeling now? What’s your anxiety level now?’ And then, if she said, ‘It’s pretty high,’ I would encourage her to relax her physical body. And on we went through an entire conversation. And that’s called systematic desensitisation, just exposing her to little bits of what she’s fearing. 

AB: Right. And taking it to another level from there. If you keep doing something, you get desensitised to it a little. 

JA: That’s right, yes. 

AB: It becomes part of your system.

JA: Exactly. For example, we might set the table in the home. Again, in her own home. We’re months away from the wedding, but in her own home, we might set the table along with her in a way that looks a little bit more like a wedding, a bit more formal. We might even have her put on the dress or something similar that she might wear to the wedding, and then sit with her again in her own living room with someone familiar with a therapist, and then again have that same conversation about being employed, imagining that you’re at the wedding. And so this is sort of bit by bit by bit. This isn’t a severe case I’m referring to. 

AB: Right. 

JA: So the cases I’m referring to were not as severe as that. But they recognised that they have an issue with being in public, with being with lots of people. 

AB: Yes, I see what you’re saying. And one of the elements that you’re bringing up, which is very important, is that almost 100% of people that suffer from social anxiety disorder are aware of it. 

JA: They are aware of it that they can recognise, they know that they’re feeling this way. They often know why. And for many people, they can also understand that it’s somewhat irrational. I’ve had conversations with people in this situation, young teenagers, who will say, I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s how they preface the senses. So they’re sort of aware of the depth of their irrationality around it. And yet it’s a real fear that’s very, very deeply embedded. You mentioned in the intro that it occurs a little bit later in childhood, and I know we’re talking about children right now. Let me just say that it seems more prevalent in terms of sort of research and facts in females than males. It’s more prevalent in females than males. 

AB: Okay, I didn’t know that. That’s interesting. 

JA: And this is especially true when we look at the demographics of it in adolescents and young adults. In other words, that’s where you find it more prevalent in women. Some researchers have suggested that this is in part due to our Western society’s focus, and maybe even globally, on how young females look, and also how they… 

AB: All the more with social media now.

JA: That’s right. Exactly. Yes. The rates of anxiety in young teenagers and young women have led, unfortunately, to some, in some cases, suicide or extreme self isolation— not willing to come out of bedrooms. So there’s a dynamic that’s happening potentially on social media. And this idea of extreme examination by people, a young teenager who posts a picture of themselves, maybe even just on a family holiday or something, very, quite neutral, the selfie, looking at yourself and taking a picture, but posting it. And within seconds, people are giving it a thumbs up or a thumbs down and in the worst cases, making comments like, ‘Oh, you should get a new haircut or look at your crooked teeth.’ And this extreme examination can certainly trigger and lead to a hyper self examination, which starts to get at… Part of the root of the social anxiety issue is that I myself have a fear of others judging me and others shaming me, but within my own mind, I also could be potentially very self critical.

AB: Jonathan, how would we see signs in a child that they might be experiencing social anxiety? So say they haven’t expressed it yet. Are there certain signs to look out for? 

JA: Yes, very much so. There are, for example, physical signs when someone is experiencing anxiety, you would have extra perspiration, you would perspire, sweating. Someone who’s nervous and has big wet marks literally under their arms, there is attention in the body that you could see, you know the term “frozen with fear.” So there are cases where someone is walking to catch a taxi or walking to go out and they literally freeze, they stop and in their mind they’re going over the fear situation and they freeze and they won’t move, they’ll just stand and maybe stare forward. These are extreme examples. Heart palpitations is another one. So they’re physiological experiences someone has of fear in terms of an adult or a parent being able to recognise that their child may have some social anxieties. One of the most common ones is just avoidance of social situations. So let’s say you say to your child, ‘Oh, we’re going over to Uncle Bill’s on Sunday for lunch,’ and the child starts to make up reasons why they can’t go— ‘Oh, I have a lot of homework, or oh, I’m just going to stay home, or I’m tired, I have a tummy ache, I’m not able to go.’ And you’re thinking to yourself, oh, that’s a bit odd because my daughter typically loves to go to her aunt and uncles and that’s a change in behaviour. Now, if it’s a one time thing, that doesn’t mean social anxiety, but if you start to see a pattern of social avoidance in the child not wanting to go out or wanting to stay home, these would be typical signals that there’s maybe something going on that needs to be addressed.

AB: And do you feel like some children are better equipped to deal with social anxiety than others? And how does this difference come in?

JA: Well, again, this brings us back to sort of what might be causing it and what’s going on in the physical body. So it’s a very interesting question and thank you for asking it. Your question, in some ways, is aligned with my approach to autism. Because if we agree that every autistic child is a unique child, there’s no one autistic child that’s similar to another. In fact, there’s an expression they say, if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism. In other words, there’s a real range. By extension, again, every human being is unique in the world. And this is very important to understand because when we think about coping mechanisms, then the answer is yes. If there’s a wide range of how social anxiety manifests, there’s also a wide range of what our abilities are to deal with it, right? For example, in autism, I’ll just do a contrast; almost 100% of the children are recommended to do what’s called ABA or applied behavioural analysis treatment. And yet even the research shows that it works for about 50% of the children. But we seem resistant. Our healthcare system seems resistant to providing personalised kind of individualised care. We sort of say all children with autism should do applied behavioural analysis. So now, to answer your question, are some people better equipped to handle social anxiety than others? The answer is yes, because there are studies looking at this and why some people can manage stress better than others. Why can some people smoke all their lives and not get cancer, while the person who’s never smoked gets cancer? And research, they’re really busy trying to figure out these differences. My guess is, the answer is, we’re just all different, period. But this doesn’t mean that we couldn’t be more smart about our own personal individuality and constitution and how we approach stress in life. I’ll give you an example. If we look at the human genome, we’ve decoded it, right? So you can now go, you can get a little swab and go for… In the United States, we have a programme called 23andMe, I think it’s global now, but you can have your DNA sequence and doctors can run this through some software now and actually determine which class of drugs work in your body and which don’t. So, for example… I’m coming to your question of differences. So, for example, if you have depression, for example, there’s a wide range, about six, seven different types, classes of drugs that you could be asked to try. SSRIs, SNRIs, for example. And typically a doctor would just try one and say, ‘Well, let’s try this and see how it goes.’ But in modern medicines, we can look at your genetics and actually determine in advance which one might work for you better, which type of drug would work in your specific unique metabolism or not. So coming back to social anxiety, most doctors agree that social anxiety is an epigenetic phenomena. So that means it’s part genetics and part environment, right? So there’s likely different triggers in the environment, like stress, diet, exercise, relationships around you. And so it turns out that each individual person, each child that I work with, that you’ve been talking about— they have their own unique set of ability to manage stress or inability to manage stress, and they each have their own set of environmental factors that trigger or don’t trigger. So the short answer to your question is when we’re going to help a child with social anxiety, we want to look at all of that individuality, all of the real differences that each child brings to the table, and we try to identify what the strengths of that child are. That sort of what we call a strength space approach. So some children are very good at articulating and being able to self reflect cognitively. Some children aren’t. Other children are quite able, though, to take deep breaths and relax their body and do some yoga, let’s say, and go in a direction of physically calming themselves, even though their mind is spinning. And other children respond very well to comfort and adults leaning in and feeling that they can accept the nurturing, some reject it. So really looking out, are some kids more able to manage it than others? I would argue yes, very much so. But there’s a wide range.

AB: Thank you, Jonathan. And I believe that approach actually going forward should be used for all children, not just in cases of social anxiety. That learning is very unique. But tell me, how would social anxiety impact a child’s learning and social development and other development?

JA: Yes, well, the impact, it can be quite great. When we think about a child’s learning and social development, it’s exactly what you might imagine, that the fear that the child is feeling literally stops them, again, they sort of freeze, and it limits them from being able to participate in large or sometimes even small groups. So these children will refuse to go to school in an extreme case, or in a less extreme case, they may go to school, but they may choose to sit alone at lunchtime, for example. They may choose to not attend birthday parties or go out to the cinema with friends. So they may not be able to participate in sports teams, for example. Basically, they can self isolate and avoid the possibility of being judged or humiliated or being left out. They don’t want to face the possibility of not being chosen to be part of a game, for example, at a birthday party. So it’s quite sad in this way. And so it has a huge impact on a child’s self esteem and on their social development. And of course, all of this is no different for a child with special needs, although perhaps arguably almost worse, since most special needs students already face social stigma and social communication challenges. So when you put social anxiety on top of that, it’s sort of double and I just like to mention that the early years I think most people understand now that early years development, in other words, the development that occurs social development, maturation, language development, communication, which happens in the early years from 3, 4, 5, 6 years old. If you have a child who is really resisting socialising because of these fears, it absolutely can impact and lead to sort of lifelong challenges with socialising.

AB: Right. So in that case, what would you say can help? What strategies would help? Say you’re noticing that a child is resisting socialising as early on as three or four. And I believe the first six years are very… And a lot of developmental psychologists will tell you that the first six years are very important in a child’s life. What can you do? Would a play based approach help? What else will help? 

JA: Yes. So thank you for asking the question because you’re sort of focusing on, let’s say, at first, quite young children. And the way that we might approach young children is different than how you might approach a young adolescent or even an adult. I’ll say that probably one of the most common approaches to social anxiety in our medicalised society is medication. And so I’m not a medical doctor, so I’m not here prescribing in any way if someone’s listening. But common drugs that we know, like Zoloft and Paxil, are medications that are used for anxiety disorders broadly, including social disorders. But of course, when you’re talking about a three or four year old, that’s not typically something that we would go to immediately. You mentioned play therapy. I think one thing that we want to avoid and this is really important when you’re understanding what kinds of things can help. One thing that we don’t want to do is to put pressure to socialise. So you don’t want to take a child who’s clinging to you. If you’re talking about a three or four year old who’s literally physically clinging to you. For example, imagine you’re in the car driving over to a family function. You go into the backseat of the car to get your child out of the carseat, and they’re resisting, they’re pushing away, they’re screaming, and they’re holding on to you. Taking that child and physically forcing them to go in as they’re screaming or resisting is typically not helpful. Why? Because you can cause trauma. You can cause trauma events where a child has this memory now of being forced into a situation they’re uncomfortable in. 

So what does help in that situation? Well, I would suggest that the very first thing that you want to do is help the physical body to calm down. So Anshu again, working with children with autism where there’s not always a way to rationalise, to have a conversation because many of the children are not able to communicate in a neurotypical way. What I teach, the therapy teams that I work with, is to first address the physical manifestation of the fear, even though it’s driven at a mental level, at a cognitive level. So those heart palpitations, the perspiration, the panting, breathing, the tension. What we do is we would first help the child to relax. So in the example I gave you, I’d open the back door of the car, I’d see the child as resisting, as having fear. I might take as many as five or ten minutes delay before going into the social event and help my child just to feel calm and relaxed. So almost the opposite reaction than many well intentioned parents take, which is, again, is to say, ‘Oh, come on, sweetheart, stop fussing. Let’s go. We’ve got to get inside.’ And the parent gets a little bit agitated, the parent gets frustrated. And so now we have two agitated people. A little child and a parent, that doesn’t help. So what do we do? We teach the parents, or the therapists in this case, to take a deep breath, to take a step back, to slow things down, to relax your body and help that child to also do the same thing. And so it sounds trite, but to take deep breaths or to pause for a moment, to look at something like a tree or the sky or to look at a book, to get your mind off of going into this social event, to distract and let the body calm down. Now, I want to say something that’s really important here. When our fear is triggered, and I know that you’ve done study in many, many areas of health, that’s one of your specialties on your podcast, and you’ve spoken with many different professionals, and you know about the fear response. You know about when adrenaline kicks in. And what science tells us is when our adrenaline is surging and we have fear that our frontal lobes, our logic is shut down, not entirely, but a little bit, and so, ironically, in some way, the irrational fear that someone’s having, if I’m going to go in the party and everyone’s going to laugh at me, when we try and rationalise with someone in that fear state, literally, the brain is not able to hear that rationale. And so this is why rationalising in the moment of fear is usually not that helpful. So going back to calming down a little bit, even a little bit, calming down the physical body, pausing, slowing things down, what this does is it actually allows the frontal lobes or the logic to re-engage. And so when we see a child, six, seven, eight or nine years old, three or four years old, when we see them calm down a little bit, maybe they’re held against your chest, maybe they’re doing some deep breathing, maybe you’ve distracted them with a book. When their physical bodies calm, then we can start to have a little conversation and appeal to their rational mind and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be holding your hand. You’ll be okay. I promise you that your uncle is waiting to see you and he loves you very much’; reminding them that they’ll be safe and okay. But first we have to get the brain receptive to that. Does that make sense? 

AB: It does. And would you say that that’s applicable to a neurotypical child as well as a child with, say, autism or special needs? Is it the same way to approach them? 

JA: Okay, yes, because we’re talking about human physiology now, we’re simply talking again about when the fear response is happening, what’s happening in your brain. And your brain really isn’t receptive to thinking logically about a situation when you’re in that fear response. So yes, I would say that this could be an idea for really any adult child, teenager experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety is to not do the cognitive mental work that probably needs to be done when you’re under stress. First relax. And that’s why, going back to the first part of our conversation, I talked about systematic desensitisation as one approach to helping. Is that, we do that in a very safe environment. We do that, it could be in a clinic, it could be in your home, where that fear response isn’t triggered as high because you’re not in the situation. Therefore, the brain literally is receptive to talking it through. 

So, besides medication, you asked what are some common strategies and things to help besides medication? Probably one of the number one approaches currently in the field of psychology is CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. You will have heard of that, of course, and it’s a [type of] talk therapy, if you will, a form of psychotherapy— CBT, where you’re helping people identify beliefs that they hold and limiting ideas and concepts that they’re holding on to that restrict their behaviour and limit their work. Another thing that’s used is hypnotherapy. So not hypnosis like you see on a stage or a magic show, but legitimate clinical hypnotherapy. And again, it involves deep, deep relaxation and it involves trying to access deeper parts of the mind when it’s not under stress in order to unlock and be able to see different dynamics, in some cases trauma that might have led to these feelings of irrational anxiety. There is one other approach, and I’ll mention, I don’t know, Anshu, have you heard of EFT or emotional freedom technique or what’s called tapping?

AB: Yes, tapping, yes. Yes. 

JA: So this would be an approach that many people with anxiety— social anxiety disorder, have used to really have great relief. It sort of circumvents in some way the cognitive mind and goes right into the neurology to release trauma, blocked energy and so on and so forth. So EFT or Tapping is something that you could do with a child in their mid age, sort of seven, eight, nine, 10 years old, and all the way through adolescence.

AB: Jonathan, I would love for you to show us some tapping points, actually, that parents can use on their children or teach their children when they start feeling anxious or beforehand to prepare themselves.

JA: Right, well, thank you for the invitation. I’m not a tapping specialist myself, although I could go through the points, starting with we would tap on the side of the hand, and then we would go over to the eyebrows. We would go under the eyes, we would go under the nose, under the chin, under the armpit. But you would really want to be working with someone that teaches tapping. I think an idea I can share, Anshu, that’s very important and really critical to the conversation we’re having— and that is while you tap on different trigger points or energy points in the body, a big part of emotional freedom technique is what you say out loud.

AB: Okay? So it’s setting your intent and letting your senses hear.

JA: It really is having a different conversation with your cognitive mind. So there’s obviously the physical body and the fear that we might be feeling, but there’s also the thoughts and the fear is driven again, that thought of what’s going to happen at the wedding, are they going to ask me this question? That’s not going to be good. So you have a whole narrative happening in your mind, in your thinking, and that’s what needs to really change. And so when you’re practising tapping, a key sentence that you’re saying is, even though I’m feeling fear about the upcoming wedding, or even though I’m feeling fear about playing with my friend at the birthday party, I accept myself anyway. So just think about that sentence for a moment. Even though I can’t seem to get myself out the front door to go to have tea or coffee with my friend, I accept myself anyway. Now, why is this critical? It’s because people with this fear are often… Remember I said at the beginning, they themselves are often very hypercritical, right? And maybe our society is teaching us to do that. We don’t have to analyse our society. But again, the selfie generation or looking hyper at how white are my teeth and how nice is my hair, and so on and so forth, that idea of being very, very self critical, it’s common that someone with social anxiety disorder is also very self critical. I’m not tall enough, I’m not smart enough, I can’t do this well enough, people don’t like me, I don’t know how to have a conversation. And that self judgement, that self criticism is really something that layers on top of like a judgement sandwich, if you will. They feel that other people are judging them, but they’re also judging themselves. And so when we look at EFT or even cognitive behavioural therapy, one of the underlying goals is to help the person feel more comfortable with themselves. And this is an answer you asked earlier, ‘what could a parent begin to do, and is play therapy helpful?’ You asked earlier. I think any modality of an adult helping a child learn to be more accepting of themselves, comfortable with themselves, is helpful. And so not just telling a child, ‘Hey, you’re okay,’ but really helping them feel that they’re okay within themselves. In other words, it’s one thing for me to say, ‘Hey, you’re a nice person,’ but it’s another to help you believe that you are a nice person. And so this is really, I think, at the crux of what we’re doing is how do you help someone ultimately love themselves? How do we love ourselves? An adult who is in their midlife, maybe they’re struggling in their marriage, maybe they’re not feeling great at work and are judging themselves or feeling down about themselves. And that idea of self love, feeling that I’m an okay person, I’m not perfect. I’m not perfect. There are things I need to develop or change, but I’m lovable and I love myself, and I want to be gentle with myself. Does that make sense? 

AB: Yes. And that’s where the whole concept of affirmations and positive reaffirmations come in. People look at themselves in the mirror and tell themselves they love them. Initially, you laugh at it, but there is something to it.

JA: I agree 100%. In fact, in preparing for our discussion today, I was writing down a list of what are the different things that I recommend that we do with the children we work with? And near the top of the list was positive affirmations. And I’m a big proponent of using a nighttime positive affirmation. So while a child is starting to fall asleep when their brain goes from alpha-beta-theta in the different brain states that they become more receptive. So playing affirmations— ‘I’m a good person. People like me, I’m okay. I’m likeable, I’m lovable, even though…’ Again, going back to that statement, ‘even though sometimes I mess up, even though I do something wrong, I love myself anyway.’ Not to go too far afield in this way, but as an educator, someone who’s worked with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children at a young age, these days in our society, we have such a focus on achievement for young children, we push children to get on a football team at the age of three and to be a star. In Canada, here we try to push kids to be great hockey players so they could become a professional hockey player. Or we have little children who are learning to be star singers and to go on the television show to be a singer. The idea of achievement is so huge in our society and with TikTok and things. And what we’re missing is teaching a child that whether you ever get chosen to be the captain of a football team or whether you ever get the best score in a mathematics exam, that they’re lovable, that they’re okay. And what we don’t teach children is… 

AB: To be content within themselves. 

JA: Right, exactly. How do you have a good relationship with yourself? All of us have a relationship with ourselves. We’re very focused on relationships with others. What do other people think? How many friends do I have? But what we don’t teach is a basic relationship to yourself. What language do you use for yourself? When you lose your car keys… And I’m talking about myself now, when I lose my car keys, on the way out the door to an important meeting, do I say to myself, ‘Oh, Jonathan, you’re so so… Why are you so dumb?’ And if that’s the language I’m saying to myself, that’s the relationship I’m having with myself.

AB: Yeah, absolutely.

JA: You know, if I could just share, years ago in my— sort of— mid 20s, when I was doing a lot of training in the field of autism and psychology, I had a very insightful trainer who pointed out to me how critical I was being on myself. And we had a number of very important talks. At least they were important to me. And while I was focused outwardly on trying to be a great autism therapist, psychologist and a parent coach, this trainer encouraged me. She said, ‘Jonathan, for the next while, I want to encourage you to really work on the relationship you have with yourself.’ And it got me thinking at that time, I remember I was almost stunned thinking, I don’t know a thing about the relationship with myself. I’ve never thought about that. And she pointed out this example, and it stuck with me to this day. She said, “Jonathan, if a little child lost one of their crayons or couldn’t find a toy, let’s say a three or four year old couldn’t find their toy car or train, would you say to them, ‘Oh, you’re so stupid, losing your toys all the time. What’s wrong with you?’” And I laughed out loud. I said, ‘Of course I wouldn’t. I want to be caring and loving and kind and patient with a child.’ And she said, ‘So why wouldn’t you extend that to yourself?’

AB: Very good point. 

JA: Be patient with yourself. And it triggered such a cascade of insight that I took with me for the next few years, where I began a new relationship with myself towards self love. Just a quick example. I was working very hard at the time in an office as well, and I often would miss lunch, or I would delay lunch and snacks, and I’d work and work and work until my belly was growling because I was so driven to work. And again, my trainer at the time who I was sharing this with, said to me, “If there was a little child, a three, a four, or even a seven or eight year old child who said, ‘I’m hungry,’ would you say to them, ‘Oh, well, just wait an hour. Why don’t you just wait two hours and not eat, it’s okay.’ And then if they said, ‘But my stomach is grumbling, literally growling and grumbling.’ Would you say, ‘Well, just work another half an hour?’” And I said, ‘No, I would do everything possible to get that child some food.’ And she said again, ‘So why are you treating yourself any differently?’ So I think when we come back again to social anxiety and the way that we deal with ourselves, I don’t want to suggest for a moment that social anxiety is self imposed. But I would suggest that the way in which we treat ourselves gently or not, or the way in which we’re critical with ourselves, or forgiving and patient, or the way that we push ourselves, or the way that we give ourselves space to be who we are, I think all of those are very important dynamics. 

AB: That’s a very important point, Jonathan. And through all these many podcasts that I’ve done, one of the very important lessons that I have learned, which you’ve just reinforced today, is that we all have to be kind to ourselves. We forget about being kind to ourselves. And it’s this whole thing about achievement and competition and more achievement and more competition, and, like you said, layers of it. It gets to a point which causes stress and anxiety. And for all the parents out there, I think that’s a great message from you that don’t do that to yourself, because if you’re doing that to yourself, sometimes the children pick it up without even realising. So thank you for that very important message. 

I end every podcast with a rapid fire round to summarise the podcast. So here goes: an exercise that children with social anxiety can start today.

JA: Well, I would say teaching them to not judge themselves when they fail or they don’t do something right. So the exercise is really teaching them to immediately say, it’s okay. Even though I feel nervous, I accept myself anywhere. Even though I coloured outside of the lines, I tried my best. So this idea of being gentle and forgiving with yourself, that’s the exercise. That’s the lesson. 

AB: Lovely. One specific therapy method parents must look into for social anxiety.

JA: I would say emotional freedom technique, EFT or tapping. And for the parents to use it for themselves first, because there’s often a lot of frustration and even anxiety of the parent, as they see their child suffering or going through this. So, emotional freedom technique for the parents and then using it with a child.

AB: Wonderful. An unmissable sign that a child is experiencing social anxiety.

JA: Yes. So actively avoiding or refusing to go to social events that they previously enjoyed or avoiding and not being able to do just basic daily living tasks and routines, those are some big red flags.

AB: Thank you, Jonathan. That was such an incredible chat. I hope we can help lots and lots of people with that chat. Thank you for taking the time and for your powerful insights. 

JA: You’re welcome. It was my pleasure.

AB: Thank you to those listening, I hope you learned something new today, and I hope we brought you a little closer to leading a healthier, happier, more hopeful life. Please do subscribe to our channel. As I’ve said many, many times, this enables us to get you lots of speakers and provide you this episode for free. And I would love to hear from you. So please send me an email at with any topic, suggestions or any questions that you might have. Thank you so much and see you next week.