The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that Anxiety Disorders are experienced by one in eight children. One of the most common Anxiety Disorders in children is social anxiety. A child experiencing social anxiety often feels uncomfortable in social settings due to fear of judgment and negative evaluation by others. As a result of these fears, anxious children will often try to avoid engaging in social situations whenever possible.
An important differentiation to make is the difference between shyness and symptoms of social anxiety. Shyness is a personality trait, not a disorder. A shy child may not have negative feelings and can warm up to people around them.
A child with social anxiety, on the other hand, will try to avoid social settings altogether. They have an intense, persistent fear of being judged by others, which prevents them from socializing.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Every kid is different. While some children with social anxiety exhibit physical symptoms such as blushing, nausea, sweating, difficulty speaking, and shaky voice, others may grapple with negative thinking patterns, such as assuming what others are thinking about them and predicting the worst when the outcome of a situation is unknown.
A child with social anxiety tries to avoid social situations. They may deeply value socializing and desire to connect with others, however, feel so anxious around their performance and the potential for judgment that they avoid social interactions whenever possible. In children social anxiety can also manifest in angry, aggressive outbursts surrounding social events or situations such as school, extracurricular activities, and events where those attending feel outside of the child’s comfort zone.
Ways to Help a Child Overcome Social Anxiety
- Teach Your Child Coping Techniques: Teach your child techniques to deal with social anxiety. Some typical examples include grounding, deep breathing, and positive self-talk.
- Validate Emotions, While Encouraging Your Child to Face Feared Situations: Validate your child’s anxiety and normalize the experience of anxiety. Talk to them about situations that cause you anxiety and how you cope with them. Validate without reinforcing avoidance by communicating your confidence in their ability to cope through the stressor (e.g. It makes sense that you’re anxious about giving that presentation tomorrow, AND I know you can get through it).
- Seek out a child therapist: If you think your child needs additional support, seek out a child counselor experienced in Exposure Response Prevention and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. A child counselor will help your child learn and practice coping skills to tolerate distress in social situations and reframe unhelpful thinking patterns. They will also help your child learn to gradually face feared social situations, instead of avoiding them. As your child engages in increased social interactions in a supportive environment they will not only learn they can handle these anxiety provoking situations, but also increase their self-confidence in their ability to interact with others.
The OCD & Anxiety Center is committed to helping individuals with anxiety disorders get their mental health back on track. We have been tirelessly working to quash stigmas surrounding mental illness. To consult one of our counselors, call us at 630-522-3124.
Dr. Maha Zayed is a psychologist and owner of The OCD & Anxiety Center. The Center is located in two suburbs outside of Chicago. She has devoted her career to specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy for anxiety, OCD, and anxiety-related disorders. She is comfortable working with children and adults and is able to provide treatment both in the office and outside of the office, wherever anxiety happens.