June 6, 2022
Every child is different. Some children are ok with socializing with their peers, while other kids have trouble doing so. Such kids usually feel overwhelmed when they must communicate with others even if they want to. As a parent, one needs to understand that there is nothing wrong with your child being shy around people. Just like us adults, some children are more outgoing than others.
Does Your Child Suffer from Social Anxiety?
There is a difference between just being shy and having social anxiety. While the former is just a trait of character that can be adjusted, the latter is something more of a concern. Unlike shy kids, children with social anxiety may feel extremely uncomfortable when being around people to the point that they are unable to carry on with their everyday activities. Social anxiety is a mental illness that must be taken seriously.
It should be said that the outbreak of COVID-19 made children all over the world more anxious overall, exposing them to various stress-inducing situations. Repeated lockdowns, extended periods of social isolation, and negative news undoubtedly led to a significant increase in children’s anxiety per se and even more so in those children who already had suffered from social anxiety.
Situations That Cause Social Anxiety in Children
If you are not sure whether your child is just shy or suffering from social anxiety, Dr. Keita Franklin, Chief Clinical Officer at Loyal Source recommends looking out for the most common symptoms of the latter, which may include:
- fears of meeting and talking to other people, which may present themselves weeks before the event
- children are worried that others will judge them
- children deliberately avoid going to public restrooms, talking to teachers, and going to birthday parties
- children throw tantrums during social events
- sweating, nausea, trembling and blushing in social situations
- children feel helpless, sad, and angry in social situations
- children constantly look for reassurance asking you questions “what if…”
- it is very difficult for children to make friends or talk to their peers
- children avoid making eye contact
- they refuse to go to school.
If you are still struggling to understand whether your child is suffering from social anxiety, then turning to a medical professional can help. A qualified medical professional in mental health can determine if your child is indeed afflicted by social anxiety and whether their case is a mild or a severe one. In most cases, social anxiety in children is amenable to treatment. One of the most effective ways of treating social anxiety in children is so-called cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps children to learn how to manage their emotions and develop coping skills in anxiety-inducing situations. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication, which is not taken for a long time.
Causes of Social Anxiety in Children at School
While social anxiety in children can be a result of our personality, it can also be triggered by real-life situations, that our child may encounter at school on a daily basis. Let’s look at some of them:
A mismatch between student and teacher. It is true that most teachers aim to provide their pupils with a positive educational experience, but sometimes certain teaching methods and styles may not be suitable for some students. When there is a mismatch like this, young students may feel shy and intimidated in the classroom and that, in turn, may lead to them being anxious around their teachers and peers.
Bullying at school. Although most schools these days nip bullying in the bud, it may still happen. Even more worryingly, bullying is taking place online, and sometimes it may be difficult to identify bullies (who, for example, can go anonymous if online).
Children who are shy and anxious around their peers can be easy targets for bullies. Most children who become victims of bullying do not tell parents anything so parents should look for the following warning signs – children don’t want to go to school, their belongings are damaged or lost, they find it difficult to fall asleep or they have physical ailments.
If your child is shy around other children and manifests signs of social anxiety, bullying can only make them feel worse. According to the existing research, boys with social anxiety are at a higher risk of being bullied and it may be extremely difficult for them to report bullying to their parents or children.
Too much screen time and excessive use of social media. When students receive constant notifications, compare themselves to others on social media, and feel worried that they have not received enough likes, their social anxiety can only become worse. It is crucial that parents and educators make sure that their children don’t spend excessive amounts of time on the internet and monitor any signs of distress that social media may cause in them.
How to Help Children Manage Their Anxiety?
If you are wondering how you can help your children with social anxiety, here are seven effective tips for you:
Talk to your children about what exactly makes them feel worried or anxious. If they are shy and worried about talking to other children at school, you can brainstorm topics for possible conversations and rehearse them. Don’t shame your children and be empathetic – acknowledge your children’s feelings and make them feel good about themselves.
Don’t allow your child to run away from potentially anxiety-inducing situations. If you see that your child is feeling anxious about a particular social situation, don’t let them run away without trying to work with their feelings a little. Instead, take them aside and try to discuss some coping strategies. Also, don’t give in to your children’s pleas to go home. Leaving will not help your children deal with a similar situation in the future.
Let your child find other ways of dealing with a social situation. For instance, if you know that speaking in public makes your kid anxious, ask the teacher to provide you with questions so that you could practice them together at home.
Prepare your children for upcoming social events. Teach your children basic social skills such as eye contact, shaking hands, smiling, and politely engaging in chit-chat. Practice social skills at home and make games out of them. You can also teach your kids social skills by role-playing social interactions. The topics of your games may include how to join children at the playground or how to introduce themselves to others.
Teach your child relaxation techniques that they can use when they are overwhelmed and anxious. One technique is taking deep breaths. Another useful technique is called progressive muscle relaxation. It is common knowledge that children who are under huge amounts of stress tend to tense their muscles, which only further exacerbates their emotional state. Encourage your child to relax beginning with their hands and their arms. They should make a fist and hold it tight for several seconds. Then they should do the same with their arms, neck, shoulders, feet, and legs.
Forget about perfectionism and focus on your child’s progress. Social anxiety in children is closely linked to being a perfectionist. Indeed, those suffering from social anxiety are afraid of failure and losing their face in front of their friends. Encourage your child to enjoy the process of doing something rather than its result. Talk to them about how fun it is to try new activities and let them know that you love it when they start something independently.
If you feel that your child’s discomfort around others is a sign of a mental health ailment, seek professional help.
Social anxiety in children can be a serious problem. Not only does it make them refuse to go to school and withdraw from social communication, but if unresolved, it can also be a problem that will haunt your child for life.
Parents should remember that social anxiety in children can be a sign of a mental health problem and in this case, professional help from a doctor is usually required. But if you think that your child’s shyness and anxiety around other people have nothing to do with mental health, the simple advice discussed in this article should be of help. Talking to your child about their fears and concerns as well as trying to structure and discuss their upcoming social activities should also help. But most importantly, you should try and understand what lies behind your child’s fears and anxieties.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his Ph.D. in history and politics from the University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Mr. Gadzhiev is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and a proven ability to effectively communicate with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is passionate about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management, and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish, and Portuguese.