Many parents overlook social anxiety in their child because they think they’re just shy or reserved. In reality, social anxiety is much more serious than shyness. Thus, it’s important to understand the signs and know what you can do to help your child interact confidently and build healthy relationships.
For the sake of clarity, there are plenty of key differences between social anxiety and shyness. For example, it’s fairly easy to identify the signs and symptoms of social anxiety.
Most of all, you should know that social anxiety is more than just a fear of interacting with others. It can even be a crippling fear for your child when they think about being around people who might judge or criticize them.
What Causes Social Anxiety in Children?
There are several potential causes of social anxiety. It can occur due to a traumatic experience, evolved feelings of shyness, or social setbacks throughout their childhood.
You might start to see noticeable symptoms of social anxiety in your child as early as 8 years old. For most kids, though, the signs really start to show up when they reach their teenage years.
What Are the Symptoms?
The most obvious symptom of this type of anxiety is an intense fear of different social situations. It could include anything from some type of performance in front of others, or a small social setting where your child will be expected to interact with people.
Some other common symptoms to look for include:
- Clinginess to people they know
- Physical symptoms like trembling or nausea
- Worrying about social events days (or weeks) ahead of time
- Disproportionate fear about an event
- Avoids social situations
One of the biggest ways to tell if your child is suffering from social anxiety is if it seems to consume them for a long period of time. Not wanting to go to a social event is one thing. But, if they have anxiety or fear about it for over six months, it’s time to consider the fact that there may be a bigger problem.
How Can You Help?
Fortunately, you can help your child deal with these issues over time. The most important thing you can do is to recognize that they do have this particular condition, and it isn’t just shyness.
Once you’re able to give a name to the struggles they’re facing, you can both tackle the problem together.
Keep in mind that your child might not know why they feel so anxious in social situations. As their parent, you can help them understand, and give them tools they can use to manage those feelings.
The first thing you can do? Teach your child how to be calm in situations that make them feel anxious. Something as simple as deep breathing exercises can help. You can also use imagery through storytelling to get your child to calm down. When they’re in a more relaxed state, it’s easier to get a handle on their worries and fears.
Once your child is in a calm, talk to them about how to change their negative thoughts and assumptions into positive ones. Most anxious feelings come from assuming the worst. Help your child recognize their negative thoughts by teaching them to say the thought out loud. Together, you can work on turning it into a positive thought.
Finally, teach your child to work through their feelings regarding uncertainty or possible embarrassment. One of the key signs of social anxiety is avoidance. While avoidance might be easy to get away with for a while, it’s not really helping your child face and overcome their fears.
Helping your child to identify the things that make them anxious will make it easier to work through as a team. You can practice scenarios at home, or slowly introduce them to situations that make them fearful while letting them know they’re safe.
Overcoming Social Anxiety
If social fears aren’t addressed when your child is young, they can carry them into adulthood. From there, they can manifest into even more social and mental health struggles.
Thankfully, it’s possible to work with your child to get through their social fears. Once you’ve identified your child’s struggle, talk with them about it at home, with your child’s teachers and coaches, and consider consults with a therapist. Joining a social skills group can be a great way to gain confidence in a safe and nurturing setting. From there, maintain the commitment to working towards calming your child’s fears. Offering resources that aid successful coping and confidence as they proceed through school can make all the difference in keeping anxiety in check.