As a parent, it’s always tough to watch your child struggle. With the pandemic, it’s no surprise that more and more kids and youth are experiencing social anxiety.
Social anxiety is associated with an intense fear of interacting with others. It’s triggered by various factors, including speaking in front of others, fear of being judged, fear of embarrassing oneself, reading out loud, or fear of being laughed at.
A social anxiety disorder may affect areas of a person’s life, such as their relationships, well-being, academic performance, and career path.
So, how can you help your child? What should you know about social anxiety?
In this article, we cover social anxiety symptoms by age and how you can support your child or teen in the best way possible.
What Does Social Anxiety Look Like?
Social anxiety symptoms may vary depending on the severity, age of your child, and/or situation. Below, we go over the common symptoms in each age group.
If you suspect your child has a social anxiety disorder, you can contact a mental health professional for an evaluation and support plan.
Pre-School-Aged Children & Social Anxiety Symptoms
Many young children face fears of separation from their parents. While some crying during the first time at daycare is completely normal, there are a few signs that indicate your child may be experiencing a social anxiety disorder. These include:
- Excessive crying
- Clinging to their parent
- Easily scared of new things
School-Aged Children & Social Anxiety Symptoms
Untreated social anxiety usually gets worse as time goes on. As your child grows and develops, their social anxiety symptoms do too. At this age, your child may experience:
- Inviting friends over or going to their houses
- Participating in student clubs, events (ie. birthday parties), or extracurricular activities
- Reading out loud or speaking in front of a class/group
- Placing a restaurant order in front of others
- Unwillingness to go to school
Teenagers & Social Anxiety Symptoms
The teenage years are plagued with many changes, sometimes giving way to moodiness and, to the dismay of many parents, irritability. At times, it can be linked to a social anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of social anxiety disorders in teens may include:
- Frequent fidgeting
- Avoiding eye contact with others
- Finding ways to avoid class or extracurricular activities
- Shyness or withdrawal from social events
- Fear of being embarrassed
- Anxiety associated with being around other people
- Self-judgment following a social interaction
- Trouble making friends or maintaining social relationships
- Sweating, shaking, or blushing in social settings
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea or diarrhea, due to social situations and anxiety
- Worrying for weeks or days before a social event
- Feeling uncomfortable around others
How to Support Your Child or Teen With Social Anxiety
Luckily, social anxiety is treatable with the right tools and support. With a little help, your child or teen can learn to overcome their fears and lead a healthy, happy, and productive life. In the following sections, we break down what you can do as a parent, how teachers can help, and when to seek therapeutic support.
Helping Your Child Cope With Social Anxiety
A child with social anxiety experiences fears in various social situations. However, they may not exactly understand why they are experiencing such big emotions. As their parent, you can help your child learn the connections between their feelings/thoughts and their physical responses (such as a racing heart, shallow breathing, and sweating). This can help them learn to cope better at the moment.
You can further support your child through the following:
Relaxation strategies. These tactics can help calm anxiety and its physical consequences. Common relaxation techniques include deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and visualization. (Note: Some great Youtube videos teach these tools to kids in an age-appropriate way)
Reframe thoughts. With social anxiety, many children jump to the worst-case scenario. Teaching your child to challenge these thoughts and replace them with positive ones can help them learn to offset anxiety.
Problem-solving skills. Social anxiety is often marked by a fear of public speaking. However, showing your child that there are ways around this fear, such as through repetitive practice, can help them learn to navigate their fears.
Social and communication skills. With social anxiety, one of the hardest parts is making new friends. This can leave your child feeling isolated. Yet, you can guide them when it comes to developing proper social skills by modelling certain behaviours. For example, you can show them how to start conversations with others, how to greet others, how to listen, and how to ask follow-up questions.
Limiting screen time. In the social media age, anxiety can be triggered by comparisons to others. Thus, setting healthy boundaries surrounding social media and screen time can help lessen anxiety (to some extent).
How Can Their Teachers or School Help?
Discussing your child’s social anxiety with their teachers or school can help set up a safe and supportive environment for your child to flourish. Some ways teachers and schools can help include:
- Pairing students up with classroom buddies for when they need help
- Assigning partners or groups they feel comfortable with
- Incorporating relaxation techniques into the classroom
- Creating structured classroom activities to not exclude anyone
- Practicing patience and positivity to foster a safe and supportive environment
- Assigning questions in advance so students know when they will be asked a question in class and have time to prepare
- Identifying a safe space in the classroom where students can go and relax if they feel nervous, anxious, or overwhelmed
- Offering rewards for participation
- Having strict rules on bullying and discrimination
It can also help to work with your child’s teacher(s) to come up with strategies to support your child in the classroom.
When to Seek Therapeutic Support for Social Anxiety
Treatment can help your child solidify and identify strategies to cope with social anxiety. If your child or teen’s social anxiety is limiting their life, such as their ability to attend school, their willingness and ability to socialize with peers, or has caused other functional limitations, it’s important to obtain professional help.
A mental health professional can help your child recognize when they feel anxiety and determine the best way to cope. These coping strategies can further be applied or practiced across different settings, helping your child or teen thrive.
At Bhatia Psychology Group, our caring and compassionate experts are here to support you and your child. Our team offers psychological assessments and testing, as well as child and teen therapy. Contact us today for more information.