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Social Anxiety in Kids

Parenting a child with social anxiety can be a challenge, but you're not alone. We're here to help you and your family.

Anxious kid looking out the window

Understanding social anxiety

It’s natural for kids to experience anxiety when faced with new or stressful situations. So how do you know when it’s become social anxiety disorder?

It’s common for kids to feel nervous or anxious in social situations. With some reassurance and guidance most kids learn to cope with these feelings and overcome them.

However for a child who is experiencing social anxiety disorder, these fears and worries are extreme and persistent.

Some kids naturally cope with meeting new people while others find it very difficult, some enjoy being the centre of attention but other kids may find it really uncomfortable and some kids may experience a higher level of discomfort in some social situations and not others.

Kids with social anxiety disorder may display the following traits:

  • Have an intense fear of being judged, criticised, laughed at or humiliated
  • Are highly self-conscious
  • Have difficulty forming friendships
  • Their fears and worries seem out of proportion to what they’re facing
  • It stops them from participating in activities or day-to-day tasks
  • They have feelings of panic and/or panic attacks
  • They avoid anything that might trigger their anxiety

Situations that can trigger social anxiety

Every child is different so some situations may trigger social anxiety for certain children and not others. Keeping this in mind, there are some common situations that a child may find distressing if they have social anxiety:

  • Giving a talk in front of their class
  • Meeting someone new
  • Going to a party with people they don’t know
  • Asking for a favour or asking for help
  • Going to a public place like a shopping centre
  • Being the centre of attention
  • Talking to someone in authority like a teacher
  • Talking on the phone

Social anxiety can affect every area of life

Anxiety affects the body, mind and behaviour:

  • Physical – Racing heartbeat, muscle tension, sweating, sore stomach, nausea, trembling, feeling faint, shallow breathing
  • Psychological – Difficulty concentrating, negative thoughts of being judged by others, mental blanks where they have nothing to say, an urge to get out of the situation
  • Behavioural – Avoidance of certain places, not answering the phone, avoiding achievement so as to not stand out

What might a child with social anxiety be thinking?

The underlying fear causing social anxiety is usually related to a belief that something bad will happen.

For example, a child may think “I might say something stupid and people will stop liking me”. 

Even if a reassuring parent or adult tells them not to worry, the thought or belief won’t go away.

Unhealthy ways of coping with social anxiety

If your child feels they can’t handle fearful social situations they may turn to coping strategies, which can cause longer term harm.

They may do the following:

  • Avoid may avoid social situations which can make their anxiety worse - this can lead to losing friendships and not learning ways to effectively communicate with others
  • Avoid standing up for themselves, giving their opinion or asking for what they want
  • Avoid success so they don’t stand out or draw attention to themselves
  • They may avoid asserting themselves and go along with what others want them to do to, as they might think it will create conflict
  • Older kids may ultimately use or misuse alcohol or drugs to help them cope in social situations

What can you do to help?

While it’s difficult to remove anxiety completely, you can help your child learn ways to deal with these thoughts and feelings so it doesn’t stop them enjoying life. Some of the following ideas can help:

Listen and offer support – take time to understand what they’re going through and reassure them that you care 

Teach them relaxation techniques and ways to calm themselves (eg. deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation)

Avoid telling them to ‘calm down’ or ‘relax’ – this can make them feel worse, especially if they feel they have no control over the anxiety

Try to teach assertive communication - show them it’s ok to give their opinion or ask for what they want (even though they may not get it)

Support your child to seek help through your local GP, psychologist or counsellor if their social anxiety persists

Affirm your child’s strengths and their worth - show them that you value their opinion and praise the things they do well

Monitor your own actions – role model positive coping strategies (eg. relaxation, exercise, deep breathing)

Help them practice being in social situations - start with easier situations first and work up to more difficult ones

Do some role plays – help them practice having difficult conversations

Put any setbacks into perspective – help them to let go of unrealistic or negative thoughts and to not give up if things don’t work out 

Support is available for you and your child

Supporting a child experiencing social anxiety can be challenging and it’s important to take care of yourself and seek support when you need it.

This content was last reviewed 10/05/2018

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