Social Anxiety in Children

What is it and what can you do to help?

Social Anxiety in Children

With the rising stress in the world, it’s no news that children, as well as adults, are suffering from anxiety. Nothing can be more helpless for a parent than to see their child struggling to keep up with the society. Anxiety can be very difficult to handle, but if you catch it before its too late, the road back becomes much easier.

Not only do parents need to know the symptoms of anxiety to be able to diagnose the plight of their children, but they need to know the ways in which they can help them. Here we describe the problem, to help parents understand the disease better.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

This is a disorder which involves extreme anxiety and panic when involved in social situations, such as school, functions, athletic activities, and even more. These children are really worried that they could do something awkward, or others will think terribly of their actions. These children constantly feel “underestimated” which can result in significant amounts of self-consciousness, stress, and avoidance. Some children are just scared of speaking or being prominent in public, while some fear and steer clear of a variety of public situations. However, there is a fine line between a truly shy or tranquil child and a child suffering from a panic disorder.

Studies suggest that the social anxiety begins in early adolescence. However, there have been cases which report signs of anxiety as early as elementary school. So, you can never be too cautious about protecting your child from anxiety. The thing is that the disease can develop suddenly as well as slowly, so either way, it can be very difficult to pin point. Parents are usually at a loss at what to do. It affect boys and girls equally and can result in a wide variety of problems that could range from an incredible fear of going to school to problems making friends, moving on to sinister.

Studies suggest that there are two main types of the disorder.  The first targets performance–things like speaking in public areas, placing your order in restaurants, shopping at target. The second reason is interactional, which concerns social situations even though you are not in the limelight. Children with interactional anxiety may dread school, eating in public areas, and using general public restrooms. A lot of people with interactional social nervousness also experience performance anxiety.

What to look for?

Children with cultural phobia tend to be excessively fearful of criticism. They could express their panic by requesting weird and often dismayed questions like “Imagine if I really do something ridiculous?” or “Imagine if I say the incorrect thing?” Small children sometimes put tantrums and cry when asked to face a situation that terrifies them, a habit that may be misinterpreted as being shy or uninterested.

Studies suggest that the fear of performance and evaluation can actually lead to a child maintaining his anxiety symptoms. Worries they experience may result in radical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, and shortness of breathing, and could significantly hinder lifestyle. The anxiety might occur well before the feared situation. These are symptoms that you, as a parent have to look out for.

These kids experience extreme fear of social situations. Fear that is unrealistic and huge. So, how do you know that your child is having a panic attack and is not just being shy? Well, there are certain questions that you ask the child or look for yourself. They can help you set things in perspective.

Small social circle, many children have few friends, however, you need to know if your child is acting oddly even with well-mannered likable kids. Their extremely timid nature, withdrawal from contact and minimal interaction could be pointing to something more sinister than a shy personality.

Excessive worries about gatherings notice whether your child is unnaturally afraid of social gatherings. It’s natural to be nervous around people but a child who ferrets even before the social event is near is visibly worried about the event and makes excuses to avoid such situations every time could be tell-tale signs of a problem.

Does your child experience headaches, stomach pains, feel dizzy or nauseated frequently? Children with social anxiety disorder frequently have physical symptoms. Sometimes these are actually feigned and might be created to avoid terrifying scenarios, or they could be bodily manifestations of the mental and emotional strain the kid is feeling.

Another important question is whether or not your child has separation anxiety? Does your child have problems interacting at the school? Missing plenty of schools can be an important point indicating early symptoms of a social anxiety disorder. Plus, the greater school is skipped, the greater is the more difficult it is for the child to adapt to the school surroundings, and the strain and dread of returning can turn into a vicious cycle exaggerating the disorder.

Besides responding to these questions, it is also helpful to rate the amount of fear that your child shows in a situation. Many children hate giving oral presentations or tests. They could get butterflies the morning hours, or have clammy hands, maybe even be concerned the night time before. A kid suffering from nervousness will remain awake, visibly worrying about a seemingly small problem. He won’t be able to do his work and can become physically sick with stress, or go to extreme measures to avoid the situation altogether.

It’s normal for a youngster to get stressed before a major game, but if the child vomits before each game or practically quits the team weekly, that signals an issue. A kid that can list fifty explanations why she or he shouldn’t go camping and provides well-planned answers, may be experiencing more than average shyness.

What are the risk factors for the disease?

You may think that your child is suffering from a problem out of the blue. However, the truth is hereditary is a major risk factor. If you or your husband suffered from anxiety or panic attacks or social withdrawal at some point in your life, chances are that your child may have inherited it from you.

Another major factor is the environment. Studies suggest that constant evaluation and overly controlling parents may trigger this part of a child’s personality, leading him to becoming much more aware of his actions. Constant nagging and negative evaluation can also tell on a child’s personality affecting his behaviour. This often leads to overthinking and imagination of severe consequences that could only be possible at the extremes.

So how do you diagnose the disease?

For the diagnosis, doctors often ask a number of questions. A social anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a child has a huge fear of being insulted and humiliated in the public. Plus, the child seeks to avoid social encounters to such an extent that he often makes up excuses and fakes stories to get out of the situation. Another factor is the anxiety itself. Children are conscious of being anxious and are afraid that they will be judged. Many downplay and hide symptoms in order to avoid any interaction at all.

What is the treatment?

The good news is that the disorder responds to therapy. We direct our treatment along two ways. One is behavioural therapy and the other is pharmacological therapy. Early detection and mild symptoms of the disorder may be treated by behavioural therapy alone. However, when the disorder is advanced and fails to respond, it’s better to augment the treatment with pharmacological therapy as well.

In behavioural therapy, the doctor often starts working on the child’s social skills. Slowly, the process moves on to improving his coping power in situations which may be originally very troubling for him. Doctors try and teach the children that they can control their disease instead of telling them they have no problem at all. This allows the children to understand that they have a solvable problem and that they are not mad.

This works to motivate the child and improves results significantly. This is Acceptance therapy and studies have described a rapid decline in negative effects in the symptoms of social anxiety as compared to other treatments. Certain times, doctors also recommend exposure therapy, where a child is deliberately exposed to a troubling situation to help him learn to control his anxiety and handle the situation. Parents have a major role in this part of the treatment as it is them who will fortify the process and facilitate learning even when the child is at home.

Pharmacological is employed when behavioral therapy is not enough to overcome the disorder. Often SSRIs, Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors are employed to alleviate the symptoms of the panic attack and help the child feel good about himself. Some studies also suggest the role of Beta Blockers in the treatment of the disease. Especially in lowering the fear response to perfectly normal situations. These meds can also help prevent the physical aspects of the anxiety attack, such as palpitations and sweating.

If you notice your child experiencing symptoms of anxiety, please seek support.

Visit Beyond Blue’s website for the steps to take to seek professional advice.





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