Social Anxiety in Children
Social Anxiety Disorder is a very common type of anxiety disorder. Someone with social anxiety may feel symptoms of anxiety or intense fear in situations where they may be evaluated, scrutinized, or judged by others in a social setting. You may have social anxiety if you are afraid of being judged by others or you are self-conscious while speaking in public, meeting new people, going on a job interview, the list goes on. Social anxiety can be a major roadblocker for those struggling with it daily, getting in the way of going to work, attending school, and even getting in the way of everyday tasks.
How Does Social Anxiety Affect Children
What many people don’t know is that social anxiety can very much affect even the youngest of children. It is most common to see true social anxiety in children between the ages of 8 and 15. Due to the fact that these children are so young and feeling such big feelings, children will often believe that everyone can see their anxiety. This might sound silly, but their little brains work this way and this is often the route cause of their anxiety and/or embarrassment. Children may hide their feelings for this exact reason, for fear of embarrassment, that everyone can SEE how they are feeling. Because of this, many children will simply avoid what makes them anxious, which in the long term can be worse if not taken care of or handled properly.
Shyness or Social Anxiety?
Dealing with children, especially younger ones, can be tricky when it comes to social anxiety. It is very normal for a child to be a little shy, especially in social settings. For babies this may look like crying for their parents or clinging to them, maybe hiding their head or shutting their eyes. A preschool age child may try to hide behind their parents, not engage in games with other children, or not want to make conversation. Children of school age may avoid new activities, not answer questions in class, or take their time making friends. All of these behaviors are very normal, and there is nothing wrong with shyness, knowing when the shyness has become social anxiety is key, though. If a child’s shyness is not improving but getting worse and it is hard to change their behaviors, they may have social anxiety.
Helping Your Child Through Social Anxiety
One great first step you can take in helping a child through their social anxiety is helping them actually understand that it is anxiety that they are feeling. Once you have helped a child to understand this, then you can teach strategies to cope with these feelings. Relaxing strategies such as deep breathing are a great ways to bring down your heart rate and relax the body from feeling overwhelmed in general. Teaching cognitive reframing is another great way to get children in the right mindframe. Showing children that they can replace negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones will help them become grounded in their reality. Working on friendship-making skills is one other way to help children work through their social anxiety. Encourage and coach your child through greetings, conversation starters, listening and responding, whatever it may be specific to their needs.
Reach Out if You Need Help
As parents, we should never feel ashamed to ask for help, especially when countless others are going through the same exact struggles. If you have tried helping your child through the struggles of social anxiety with coping techniques and they still appear to be struggling, it may be time to reach out for help for you both. Resilient Child Therapy Institute (RCTI) provides a safe space for children, adolescents, and families to feel heard through individual, family and group therapy. We use play therapy, along with expressive art-based interventions (e.g. music, art, drama, writing) for children. For more information or to book an appointment, visit HERE.