Have you found yourself googling ‘how to help an anxious child’ recently?
if so you really won’t be alone with this. I work for a leading UK children’s charity a a therapist and we have seen many anxious children over the last year.
If you suspect your child may be more than just shy, here are some insights into social anxiety disorder.
How to Help an Anxious Child
For some, going to the grocery store is simply an unwanted chore, but for a small part of the population it inspires crippling fear. For a person with a social phobia, partaking in daily activities can be hindered by a fear of people and socially interactions. According to Anxiety BC, 13% of the population, the symptoms of social anxiety disorder may begin in childhood.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder or SAD is a form of social phobia that manifests itself at a much higher extreme than a phobia of specific scenarios. In essence, it is a chronic fear of being judged by others, thought of negatively in any way or humiliated.
Individuals with SAD are convinced that any social interaction holds the potential for embarrassment, causing them to avoid socializing at all costs. Though many people with the disorder are able to admit that their fear may be unfounded, they are unable to eliminate the feeling that they’re under intense scrutiny.
Looking for Signs of Social Anxiety Disorder in Children
In some children, symptoms of SAD can appear as early as 1- 2 years of age, however, for many children an onset of SAD will appear in their early teens. Noticeable behaviour characterized by this disorder include:
trouble talking to people outside their immediate family;
avoiding speaking in class;
hiding when company comes over;
fear of performance e.g. acting, dancing, singing, doing athletics in front of people;
avoiding ordering food in restaurants;
avoiding joining in on conversations or starting them; and
avoiding joining clubs or doing team oriented extra curricular activities.
For some children, the disorder will stem from an obvious event or condition such as a speech impediment, but for most, its root cause is not so easily determined.
How Children with Social Anxiety Disorder Deal with Social Situations
Avoidance is the most common tactic used. In many cases they will refuse to partake, fake an illness or show extreme levels of distress at the prospect of socializing.
In other children, SAD may be found in association with other disorders including panic disorders, all types of phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and selective mutism. Selective mutism in particular is more prominent and closely related to SAD.
In certain situations, like speaking in front of their class, a child may be completely unable to speak or even coaxed to respond, but in other situations like socializing with their friends, they are able to communicate normally.
How Does Social Anxiety Disorder Affect Children?
Often times children with SAD will have very few close friends or no friends at all. They can suffer from loneliness and developmental problems due to lack of communication. Their learning, for example, may suffer, particularly in the areas of reading, linguistic performance and physical activity. Any activity that may require a social setting is prone to under-development.
As result of their quiet nature, many children will get by for years without treatment because they are so well behaved.
Will My Child Grow Out of SAD?
In some children, SAD will come and go, usually around their early teens. However, for many children SAD will be a lifelong challenge. Many adults with SAD have suffered with it since childhood and do not seek treatment until they are much older.
As untreated children grow into adults, they are more likely to suffer from a lower quality of life. Social anxiety sufferers may miss many opportunities in a professional and personal sphere due to social fears. Therefore, seeking treatment is vital for these children if they are to fulfill their full potential and achieve happiness.
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder in Children
There are two primary options for treating children with SAD: medications and behavioural modification therapy. Since there is so little information available about children with SAD, it is difficult to say which treatment option is better. Generally, a combination of medication and therapy is most effective in treating mental health conditions.
If you suspect your child has SAD the best route of action is too see your family doctor or pediatrician.
You might like to tale a look at my book Create Your Own Calm which is packed with activities to help kids aged 6-12 feel calmer and more in control of those BIG feelings that often overwhlem them.
How to Help Anxious Child – head to the experts and tell them your concerns.