Does your kid often feel sick, complaining of a stomach ache or headache before going to school? Have you noticed that they often try to find any excuse not to go? Are they cutting back on social activities, avoiding places where they might meet their peers? While you might think this is just adolescent awkwardness or teenage moodiness, these could also be indications that your child is dealing with social anxiety.
Social anxiety is a real, increasing problem for today’s youth. More than 9% of kids between 13 and 18 are diagnosed with it every year, and the problem is a little more prevalent in girls (11%) than in boys (7%). Today, we’re going to talk about what social anxiety is, what it looks like in kids, and how you can help your child through the problems that come along with social anxiety.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is a pervasive and debilitating mental health condition characterized by an intense fear of social interactions and scrutiny from others. Individuals with social anxiety experience heightened self-consciousness and often anticipate negative judgment or evaluation by their peers. This fear extends to various social situations, such as parties, meetings, or even everyday conversations, making it challenging for affected individuals to engage in and enjoy social activities.
The core element of social anxiety is an irrational fear of embarrassment, humiliation, or rejection. This leads those affected to avoid or endure social situations with immense discomfort. Physical symptoms commonly accompany these anxious feelings, including trembling, sweating, blushing or facial flushing, and a rapid heart rate. The fear of negative evaluation can be so overwhelming that it significantly hinders one’s ability to build relationships, pursue career opportunities, and engage in daily activities.
Social anxiety is not just shyness; it represents a clinically significant level of distress and problems with social functioning. The condition often emerges in adolescence and may persist into adulthood if left untreated. The exact causes of social anxiety are complex and may involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. Traumatic social experiences, a history of bullying, or a family history of anxiety disorders may contribute to its development.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety in Children
In children, social anxiety can emerge fairly young, between the ages of 4 to 8, but it is more likely to develop in the early to mid-teens. It is frequently characterized by excessive shyness, fear of being embarrassed or humiliated, and avoidance of social activities. Children with social phobia may be reluctant to participate in class, have difficulty making friends, and may exhibit physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches when faced with social situations. They may cling to parents or caregivers in social settings and avoid eye contact.
For adolescents, social anxiety can become more pronounced as social demands increase. Teens with social anxiety may avoid speaking up in class, participating in extracurricular activities, or attending social events. They might fear being judged or negatively evaluated by peers. Physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, and trembling may become more noticeable. In adolescence, concerns about body image and peer acceptance can exacerbate social anxiety, leading to avoidance of situations where they feel exposed or scrutinized.
Teenagers with social anxiety may also experience heightened self-consciousness, negatively impacting their self-esteem and overall well-being. Academic performance, peer relationships, and participation in social activities may be compromised.
In both children and adolescents, social phobia can have long-term consequences if left untreated. It can hinder the development of social skills, limit academic and career opportunities, and contribute to the persistence of anxiety disorders into adulthood. This is why it’s so important to recognize these signs and check in with your kid. You want to make sure you know what’s going on with them, emotionally, and recognize the signs of social anxiety. Once you do, you can get your child the help they need.
How To Help Your Child With Social Anxiety
Helping a child with social anxiety involves a combination of support from parents, teachers, and potentially mental health professionals. If there are other important adults in your child’s life, you may wish to involve them, too. Here are some of our best tips for helping your kiddo work through social anxiety.
Encourage Open Communication
Foster an environment where the child feels comfortable expressing their feelings. Be attentive, validating, and non-judgmental. Understand their specific fears and concerns about social situations. Focus on building the child’s self-esteem and emphasizing their strengths. Encourage and praise their efforts, even small steps towards facing social situations.
Model Social Skills
Demonstrate and encourage appropriate social behaviors. Role-playing can be a helpful tool for practicing social interactions in a safe and supportive environment. This can be extra helpful for kids on the autism spectrum, who often feel social anxiety more strongly than their neurotypical peers.
Establish a Routine
Establishing a routine can provide a sense of predictability and control for the child. Knowing what to expect in various social situations may help reduce anxiety. Introduce changes to the routine gradually, too, especially during the stressful back-to-school season.
Involve School Support
Work closely with teachers and school staff to create a supportive environment. Educate them about the child’s social anxiety and collaborate on strategies to facilitate positive social interactions at school.
Don’t Label Your Child as Shy
A child with social anxiety is not necessarily a shy child. Plenty of kids are shy, especially when they’re young. Shyness just means that your child is slower to warm up or somewhat uncomfortable in social situations. Social anxiety is much more distressing for the child and has diagnosable symptoms. Understand the difference between normal shy behavior and symptoms of anxiety, and don’t label your child as shy and discount their experience.
Seek Professional Help
Consider consulting with a mental health professional who specializes in treating children with anxiety disorders. Look for a therapist experienced in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is often effective for social anxiety. CBT helps children identify and challenge irrational thoughts and develop coping strategies. Group therapy is also a good option for many kids with social anxiety– even though maybe putting them in a new social situation seems a little counterintuitive. But when socially anxious kids are in a group with kids facing the same problems, group therapy can provide a supportive setting for children to share experiences with peers facing similar challenges.
When seeking a mental health practitioner, look for a licensed therapist or other mental health professional with experience in child and adolescent therapy. You want to find somebody who is comfortable with anxiety disorders. It’s important to find someone with whom the child feels comfortable and who has a collaborative approach involving parents and caregivers in the treatment process. Your kid won’t be able to make progress if they don’t feel safe around the therapist, so the rapport they have with them is extremely important.
Does it sound like your kid is struggling with social anxiety? If so, don’t hesitate to reach out to the therapy team at Love Heal Grow. Our team of supportive mental health practitioners has great experience working with kids and treating anxiety disorders, and we’d love to help your child cope with their anxieties. Schedule today to get started!