Social Anxiety: What does that look like in Children?
This week Sunshine State Counseling Center is hoping to educate parents on what social anxiety looks like in children. One common question is: What is social anxiety?
Social Anxiety is an intense fear of social situations in which the child may be made fun of or judged. Social Anxiety can cause children to experience strong feelings of worry which can be triggered by different things including speaking in large crowds, reading out loud, and talking to new people. Children with social anxiety may have a difficult time engaging in social situations such as family events, school, sports teams, and even play dates.
Social Anxiety can emerge from a history of shyness but can also arise from experiences such as bullying. The following are common symptoms of Social Anxiety:
- Dreading social events
- Fear, anxiety, and avoidance that lasts for 6 months or longer
- Tantrums, crying, freezing up, failing to speak in social situations
- Excessive clinging to familiar people
- Racing heart, shaky voice, nausea, trembling
- Blaming others for social “failures”
One important thing we can do as parents is teach our children relaxation strategies to allow the rapid heart rate to slowly decrease. Some skills are taking deep breaths and muscle relaxation (squeezing their hands and releasing, tightening their toes and releasing; this technique is also called Progressive Muscle Relaxation). Anxious children tend to have tense muscles when they are under stress, so these are designed to help them relax their bodies and cognitive re-framing. Cognitive re-framing is transforming specific negative events or thoughts into more positive ones. Key goals of Cognitive Re-framing include describing your situation as clear as possible, empowerment to understand what you are capable of coping with, and brainstorming alternative views of situations you are in.
Negative thoughts also have a role in reinforcing anxious thoughts. Teaching your kids to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts is key. Children tend to have beliefs such as:
- Overreacting: Crying and wailing when someone touches their hair
- Personalizing: Getting upset because a classmate did not want to play with them this instant and now thinks they dislike them
- Assuming the worst-case scenario: Thinking they are going to throw up in front of everyone
- Worrying and thinking others will see them in a bad light: Worrying and thinking peers will think they are not good enough
Finally, if you feel as if social anxiety is increasingly making it difficult for your child to attend school or socializing with peers, it may be time to seek help from a licensed mental health professional.