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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.

Sad girl with crossed arms

Is it shyness or social anxiety?

Shyness can be very common and kids usually grow out of it. On the other hand, kids with social anxiety have intense feelings of fear and worry that something bad will happen to them in a social situation.

  • Their temperament and personality will play a part
  • 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
  • Some kids may experience a higher level of discomfort in some social situations and not others

Situations that can trigger social anxiety

Every child is different. What one child finds triggering, another child may not. Here’s some situations your child may find distressing:

  • 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 affects the body, mind and behaviour

The fear underlying social anxiety is usually related to a belief or thought about something bad happening.

They may think “I might say something stupid and people will stop liking me”. 

This can lead to a number of symptoms including:

 

  • Physical – Racing heartbeat, muscle tension, sweating, sore stomach, nausea
  • 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

“My child became distressed while entering a birthday party; I helped him to calm down by focusing on his breathing and positive thinking. We then found a good friend of his to play with.”

- Drew, parent of an 8 year old son

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 avoid social situations which can make their anxiety worse
  • They may avoid asserting themselves and go along with what others want them to do to, as they might think it will create conflict
  • They may avoid success so they don’t stand out and draw attention to themselves

What can you do to help?

The first step is tuning in to your child and noticing if they are particularly anxious about social situations. Some of the following ideas can help:

Affirm your child’s strengths and their worth

Teach them relaxation techniques such as breathing, meditation, muscle relaxation

Teach assertive communication and how it is different to being passive or aggressive

Do some role plays – if your child needs to have a difficult conversation with someone practice with them first

Practice being in social situations but start with easier ones first and work up to more difficult situations gradually

Put any setbacks into perspective – encourage your child to challenge unrealistic or negative thoughts and to not give up

Support is available for you and your child

To talk through your options call a counsellor or speak with your GP.

This content was last reviewed 10/05/2018

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