The term “social anxiety” appears everywhere in today’s world. Many automatically associate the words with those that consider themselves introverts. Some refuse to even take the phrase seriously. But social anxiety isn’t simply the fear of interacting with other people. It’s actually characterized as an intense fear of social situations in which that person may be judged and criticized by others. Social anxiety disorders can truly disrupt a person’s life, especially that of a child. Continue reading as we discuss social anxiety counseling for kids.
Social Anxiety in Kids
Children with social anxiety can experience a number of intense emotions each and every day. Situations that can induce the anxiety-ridden feelings include:
- Speaking in front of others
- Reading out loud
- Criticism, being bullied, and judged by their peers
- Fear of offending their peers
- An embarrassment of any kind
- Fear of conversing with strangers
Kids who suffer from social anxiety worry about many different kinds of social situations. They worry about school, extracurricular, and sports. Anxiety follows them around on playdates, events, and parties – including ones thrown by their own family!
The Backlash of Social Anxiety in Kids
Social anxiety disorder can cause a significant amount of stress in a child’s life. It has a negative effect on many aspects of their lives. They begin to suffer in academic performance and their social relationships. Their self-confidence begins to slip away, as do other areas of child development. Kids suffering from social anxiety tend to avoid engaging in sports or other group activities.
But the good news is that there is a help! Parents can help children with social anxiety simply by understanding the nature of the disease. Through validation that they are indeed suffering and coping skills, parents can help lessen the effects of social anxiety on their kids. So let’s dive into the topics of counseling for kids with social anxiety!
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder in Kids
The average age social anxiety symptoms begin to appear is around 13 years old. For 75% of sufferers, the disorder will last for 8-15 years. This disorder can stem from a childhood history of shyness. However, most cases are triggered by a traumatic event – mainly through bullying. Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from social anxiety disorders. The defining feature of social anxiety disorder includes anxiety about one or more social situations in which the person might be subjected to intense judgment. Examples include social interactions, being watched and observed by others, and performing in front of others.
Other symptoms can include but aren’t limited to:
- Social situations that always trigger anxiety symptoms such as tantrums, clinging, crying, freezing up, or failure to speak
- When the fear grows out of proportion and feels to be threatening to the child
- The fear, anxiety, and avoidance lasts for 6 months or longer
- The dread of social events occurring weeks in advance
- Excessive clinging to familiar people
- Tantrums when faced with anxious situations
- Blaming others for perceived social failures
- Physical symptoms like blushing, racing heart, shaky voice, trembling, nausea, and difficulty speaking
Coping with Social Anxiety Disorder
There are a number of ways that parents can help their children cope with a social anxiety disorder. The first step in helping your child cope with anything is by giving a name to emotion/disorder. Suffering children often know that they are anxious in certain social situations, but they don’t always know why. Helping them connect the dots between their triggers, physical symptoms, and emotional responses can help them make sense of their own experiences.
The second and most crucial step is validating your child is suffering in the first place. A lot of anxiety can stem from the idea that the parent is in disbelief or is brushing the disorder under the rug. By simply letting your child know that you not only believe them but support them and want to help can make all the difference in the world. Together, you and your child can learn to work through these negative emotions and create a stronger bond.
The first tool we will discuss is learning how to calm down when anxious feelings begin to take over. Deep breathing is the best way to calm a rapid heart rate, shallow breathing and feeling dizzy. Have your child visualize blowing up a large balloon. Use the box breathing method to help slow their breathing. Take a deep breath for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, and then exhale for four seconds. Repeat as necessary.
Try using guided imagery as well. Have your child close their eyes and take them on a relaxing adventure as they breathe. Tell a quick story in a low and even voice as your child finds his/her center.
Kids with social anxiety disorder can be overwhelmed by negative thought cycles. These cycles reinforce their anxious thoughts and make them worse over time. They often fall into the categories of assuming the worst-case scenario, believing others see them through a negative lens, overacting, and personalizing.
Sit with your child and identify those negative thought cycles. Once identified help them replace those thoughts with positive ones. For example, maybe your child says things like “My teacher thinks I’m stupid because I’m not good at long division.” Help them recognize the negative thought of seeming stupid and have them refocus on reality. It is their teacher’s job to help him/her learn that skill. Finally replace the negative with a positive such as “I’m having difficulty with long division, but my teacher will help me get better at it.”
Many children with social anxiety turn to avoidance as their main coping mechanism. Which is kind of ironic, as avoidance isn’t coping at all. They do everything they can to avoid engaging in anxiety-ridden situations. Because they aren’t actually facing their anxiety, avoidance actually makes social anxiety worse over time.
Help your child develop problem-solving skills to help them work through their feelings of fear and anxiety. For example, let’s say your son fears public speaking. Have him practice at home in front of a mirror. You can try videotaping him and watching it together. Remind him of the positive things he is doing to help build confidence. Help him learn to focus in on a friendly face and using deep breathing techniques to calm those anxious feelings.
If That Doesn’t Fully Help: Try Counseling for Kids
These coping strategies may help, but sometimes they just aren’t enough. If social anxiety disorder negatively affects your child’s ability to attend school, socialize, or affects other areas of development, we would love to help.
Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help your child through counseling for kids. Social anxiety is very treatable and by working on it now, you can set your child up for a successful future with social anxiety.
* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.
Susan Rosemeier currently holds a Master‘s Degree in Professional Counseling from Liberty University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science and Organizational Leadership from Trinity International University. Her background includes experience in case management, structural family therapy, individual & group therapy, and crisis counseling. She is a firm believer that the relationship between counselor and client is crucially important – and therefore strives to create a warm, caring environment in which to promote insight, healing, and growth.