Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is more than just shyness. Children with social anxiety struggle with excessive self-consciousness and can often worry about people judging them. As a result, social phobia can lead them to avoid interactions or become anxious in social situations.
Social anxiety usually affects older children and teenagers, but it can also be diagnosed in children as young as four years. Read this post to learn more about the types, symptoms, causes, treatment of social anxiety in children and tips to help children with the disorder.
Social anxiety in children can be classified into the following two types.
1. General social anxiety
- General social anxiety implies that the child is anxious in all social situations, even when not in the spotlight.
- They may be afraid of routine things such as going to school, eating in public, using a public restroom, or interacting with people.
2. Performance anxiety
- Children with performance anxiety experience fear of being in the spotlight.
- They may worry about performing on the stage or speaking in public.
- Most children with general social anxiety may suffer from performance anxiety as well.
The symptoms of social anxiety in children can be classified into the following four broad categories.
1. Physical sensations
- Stomach ache
- Tension in muscles
- Shortness of breath
- Derealization (feeling detached from one’s body or surroundings)
- Agitation or irritability
- Refusal to attend school
- Avoiding participation in school activities
- Declining invitations to social events
- Not participating in group activities
- Needing parental presence at all times
- Poor eye contact
- Staying indoors even on weekends
Children suffering from social anxiety disorder may have one or more of the following thoughts.
- “I might say something stupid.”
- “People won’t like me.”
- “They will say bad things about me behind my back.”
- “I will be a laughing stock.”
- “I am an idiot.”
- “Others can easily tell I am nervous.”
Pinpointing the exact cause of social anxiety in children can be difficult. However, the following factors may increase a child’s risk of developing social anxiety disorder.
- A mother with social anxiety
- Genetic predisposition to social anxiety—it may run in families
- Episodes of unpleasant or embarrassing social interactions
- Victim of bullying, teasing, rejection, abuse, trauma, family conflict, parental separation, etc.
- Shy personality
- Visible facial disfigurement, differently-abled, or use of devices to help with disabilities such as hearing problems
A multidisciplinary approach is required for the diagnosis of social anxiety in children. The evaluation of the symptoms happens in several contexts, and the observations of parents, teachers, and caregivers are essential to reach the correct diagnosis.
It is easy to confuse shyness with social anxiety. However, as much as some shyness is normal in many individuals, children with social anxiety experience severe anxiety that is more than usual.
Extreme anxiety may impact how they function socially and leave them under a lot of distress. The diagnostic criteria require children to show the symptoms of anxiety around peers and not just with adults, and the symptoms must have lasted for six months or longer.
The pediatrician will evaluate the child and refer them to a psychologist to help reach a positive diagnosis.
A combination of behavioral therapy and medications may be used to treat social anxiety disorder.
1. Behavioral therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be helpful for children with social anxiety disorder.
- This therapy helps children learn how to overcome their apprehensions and manage their anxious thoughts better.
- The therapy includes practicing social skills.
- Medicines are used when behavioral therapy alone is not sufficient.
- Medicines reduce the symptoms of anxiety and help make behavioral therapy more efficient.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), beta-blockers, etc., may be prescribed to reduce anxiety symptoms.
Note: Do not administer any medicines without the doctor’s advice.
Consider using the following steps and strategies to help children with social anxiety.
- Identify the situations that make your child feel worried or fearful. Pretend to be in those situations and practice things the child can do to feel better.
- Share your stories about the times you have felt anxious in social situations and how you handled your fears and apprehensions. It will help them confide in you and share their feelings with you.
- Reassure them that their feelings are nothing to be ashamed of and that you understand and support them.
At school or in other social settings
- Use the stepladder approach to help children who suffer from social anxiety. The method involves tackling small things before facing the big fears or anxieties.
- Gently introduce the child to participate in social activities.
- Use gentle encouragement and do not push the children to interact with others.
- Do not speak for your child, as it can make the situation worse.
- Tell your child’s teachers and caregivers about their condition. Tell them about the things you do to help your child as it will aid in providing a consistent support environment to the children at both home and school.
Talking to the child
- If the child voluntarily agrees to do something that would normally make them very anxious, appreciate them wholeheartedly.
- If there are other people around, do not make a big deal out of it, but praise them with lots of appreciation when alone.
- Do not bribe or force them to interact socially.
- Do not label them as “shy.”
- Do not compare your children with other extroverted children.
- Do not criticize or scold them when they falter in socially awkward situations.
Give your children enough time and support, as social anxiety is real and must be addressed in time. An untreated social anxiety disorder may lead to depression. If you or your child’s teachers suspect social anxiety in your child, do not hesitate to discuss it with the child’s doctor.
- Social Anxiety Disorder Basics.
- Social Anxiety.
- Does Your Toddler Have Social Anxiety?
- Social anxiety in children.
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