What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety involves an intense fear or anxiety of being watched, judged, or humiliated by others in social situations. This fear or anxiety is so intense that it gets in the way of living your life — completing day-to-day tasks or being able to interact socially. Someone with social anxiety will avoid situations that most people consider normal.
How do I know if my child is struggling with social anxiety?
Though social anxiety can appear at any age, most cases begin to appear around age 13 — an age where social “uneasiness” is quite common. The greatest indicator of your child having social anxiety is if fear or anxiety prevents your child from social interaction and/or from doing regular daily tasks including academics, personal/school relationships, and life enjoyment.
Ways your child may be at greater risk of developing social anxiety:
– Exposure to negative social experiences such as bullying and rejection
– Other negative life events such as loss of a loved one, relationship conflict, and trauma or abuse;
– Temperament including shyness, withdrawal in new situations/people
– Academic or social demands such as public speaking, school presentations, meeting new people
– Family history (if a sibling or biological parent has social anxiety)
Your child may be struggling with social anxiety if they avoid or have difficulty with:
– Talking to strangers
– Speaking in public
– Making eye contact
– Entering rooms
– Eating in front of others
– Going to school
– Starting conversations
When triggered, your child’s social anxiety may present itself in the following ways:
– Increased heartbeat
– Headache, dizziness, or light headedness
– Stomach aches
– Difficulty breathing
– “Out of body” experience
Effects of Social Anxiety
Your child’s social anxiety may impact other areas of their life such as:
– Low self-esteem
– Negative self-talk or depression
– Isolation from peers or difficulty forming new social relationships
– Low academic performance
– Suicide or attempted suicide
How can I help my child?
- Share Your Experiences
Comfort your child by sharing your experiences of anxiety and how you face these feelings. Create a warm environment for your child to reciprocate their experiences of anxiety.
- Be Patient
Be patient with your child. Imagine how difficult it may be for your child to appear “weak” or as if there’s something wrong with them. Give your child time and space to open up to you. Remember, everyone is different. Your child may respond differently to particular triggers or environments than you do. Be flexible with them and remain compassionate.
- Help Them Connect the Dots
It can be scary to always feel fearful and anxious in situations and not know why. Help your child identify the triggers. Is this only school related? Only with new people? With peers? Be specific and clearly identify what it is creating this fear such as public speaking, finding someone to play with at recess, visiting new environments.
What happens in these fearful moments? Help your child understand the emotions they experience. Is it fear, worry, embarrassment, disappointment, guilt? This way your child can begin using the right term when sharing their feelings and experiences, improving your communication with your child and problem-solving. Knowing your child’s specific emotions will also help you suggest appropriate strategies to tackle these emotions.
Dive deeper. Ask your child about their worries. Help paint the picture for your child. Ask them, “What makes you think everyone will laugh at you?” “What would happen if you made a mistake?” “Who are you worried about disappointing?”
- Focus on Your Child’s Strengths and Interests
Your child may find great difficulty in doing particular social activities, which may make them feel incapable or not good enough. Assure your child of the strengths they possess and focus on uplifting them with those. Take time to highlight their passions and hobbies, and encourage them to spend time on the things that bring them joy and confidence!
- Work with Your Child on Overcoming Social Anxiety
Start small. Try one thing at a time and see what works and what doesn’t. Remember, everyone is different, so be patient with your child. Here are some techniques you can suggest to your child and ask to do with them:
– Breathing techniques
– Exercise and muscle relaxation
– Positive self-talk (respond to negative thoughts)
There’s no certain way to predict whether your child develops social anxiety, nor to prevent social anxiety entirely. However, here are some steps you can take as a parent to help reduce the severity of symptoms:
– Encourage your child to journal — Reflecting can help your child identify stressors in their environment as well as what seems to help them feel better
– Help your child prioritize their issues — Learning to manage time and energy can help reduce anxiety. Be sure to help your child make time for the things they enjoy.
– Ask your child if they want help — Don’t be afraid to suggest professional help for your child. However, remember that this is their decision to make. Your role is to provide options and support their decisions.
Are you or your child interested in speaking to one of our therapist’s about their anxieties? Connect with us today and book your free 20-minute consult here.