Signs & Symptoms

Social Anxiety

Is your child avoiding social interactions?

Some children experience extreme anxiety or discomfort in social situations. These children often try to avoid school, birthday parties, and social gatherings. Social anxiety is extreme worry about being around other people.

Perhaps it goes like this…Your child is looking forward to an upcoming birthday party. She is so excited that she asks you for days how soon the party is. Then, when the day finally comes, your child suddenly looks panic stricken and begs you not to make her go. As you walk toward the party, your child is hanging on your leg and crying and refusing to go inside.

As a parent, you have no idea why your child does not want to go to the party. It is possible that the child cannot even articulate it herself.

Children with low self-esteem or poor social skills may struggle with a fear of social situations. It also could be that the child has been rejected in the past and now is afraid to be around other kids.

When these worries develop in young children, it is important to address them. Feelings of worry, fear, anxiety, or panic could get worse as your child enters the teen years. Thus, it is crucial to notice these symptoms early and to work to treat any underlying challenges.

Alternately, social anxiety might develop as your child reaches middle school or high school. A combination of anxiety symptoms, puberty, and increased social demands could contribute to social anxiety.

At times, if these anxiety symptoms go untreated, more significant panic symptoms may develop, such as difficulty breathing, racing heartbeat and sweating palms. When children have extreme anxiety or panic, the motivation to avoid social situations is even greater, and symptoms can become harder to relieve.

What do challenges with Social Anxiety look like?

  • Avoiding social situations or events?
  • Worrying about not knowing what to do in a social situation?
  • Acting painfully quiet or shy around other people?
  • Struggling to complete a day of school?
  • Calling you to pick her up from school?
  • Going to the nurse but not actually seeming sick?
  • Feeling afraid others do not like him or her?
  • Asking questions about seemingly obvious social rules?
  • Crying for an hour after you dropped her at preschool or kindergarten?

Why is Social Anxiety happening?

Anxiety is defined as uncontrollable worry that is out of proportion to the situation, or excessive. Everyone worries about a number of things in life. Some level of anxiety is adaptive for people, even for children. In the case of children with significant social anxiety, perhaps being around other children, leaving mom or dad, not understanding the social cues of other children, or excessive worry across settings could be bothering your child. Anxiety can cause a child to freeze up, forget what to say, or do something regrettable. Your child may wish to avoid a party or social gathering because staying away from the stressor initially alleviates anxiety and is reinforcing. Your child may avoid more social settings because it felt good to stay home sick from school or to avoid the party. Maybe it felt good because of the removal of social demands. Or, perhaps, it is because he or she feels safe at home with mom and dad. Finally, it could be that your child enjoys the chance to have alone time or to play videogames. 

 

If your child has Social Anxiety, low self-esteem could underlie these feelings. This term means that your child has a low sense of his or her worth in relation to peers. Some children do not know what they are good at, why they are loveable, and who they are. Sometimes, these problems develop in response to a history of peer rejection, bullying, or trauma. Other kids may be more inclined toward a negative self-appraisal due a chemical or natural tendency toward anxiety or depression. Finally, other children may have difficulty developing a healthy self-esteem due to immaturity or delayed development. Identity formation is a process that develops throughout childhood and adolescence. Some children struggle more than others to integrate aspects of their personalities into a whole sense-of-self and to accept oneself ‘warts and all.’ Instead, they see every little mistake, failure, or personality flaw as unforgivable and are unable to develop a healthy identity. All of these issues can contribute to social anxiety in children and adults.

How can I manage Social Anxiety at home?

Building confidence in your child’s areas of strength can help improve self-esteem. For example, a child who is not a great athlete may excel in creativity and find a niche in writing plays or designing sets.

Helping your child find his or her niche and feel successful from a young age is crucial.By addressing symptoms early, your child will likely struggle less later on.

It is important to not allow your child to simply avoid anxiety-producing situations. Anxiety tends to grow when such potentially ‘scary’ events are averted. What happens is that your child pictures the situation as so much worse than it actually is.

Rather than having the chance to experience it and to realize for him or herself that it wasn’t so scary, the child is left wondering how terrible it would have been. Further, the child feels a sense of failure, believing that he or she ‘chickened out’ rather than braved through the situation.

If your young child is struggling to separate from you, or is excessively shy, there are some action steps you can take. Look into meet-up groups, preschool, music class, social groups, ‘mother’s morning out,’ or a gym class. Show your child that you can leave and then come back. Work to just get away for a few minutes, leaving your child with a trusted loved one. Extend this time gently. Success breeds success. The more positive social interactions the child has, the more he or she will want to engage in these in the future.

Be an advocate at your child’s school for anti-bully and community building activities. Schools that place an emphasis on team building, a caring culture, and honoring people’s individual differences create better communities that offer support to all children.

For more extreme symptoms like panic and avoidance of social settings, see a psychologist. If this change is sudden, make sure your child has not experienced something traumatic. Consult with a psychiatrist to see if medication is needed to ease panic symptoms.

The best treatment for anxiety is generally considered to be Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This evidence-based approach helps your child learn the skills and strategies to manage feelings of stress, deal with anxiety, and to face previously anxiety-provoking situations.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Social Anxiety?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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