Combat social anxiety in young children

Teach your child essential coping mechanisms to help ease their social anxiety.
By Taryn Dekel

When does being ‘shy’ cross over to social anxiety? Social anxiety disorder goes beyond not wanting to meet and socialize with new people. For many children (and adults), it is a debilitating fear of social situations including speaking in front of others and reading out loud, to name a few.
Due to the nature of social anxiety disorder, children will avoid situations and activities such as sports and other
group activities. Parents can help their children by understanding the nature of social anxiety and arming them with
coping mechanisms to boost their self-confidence.
Typically, you’ll notice increased fear and anxiety of social situations between the ages of 8 and 15, in certain cases in children as young as four years of age. Not every child is a textbook case and triggers can produce a variety of reactions such as tantrums, crying and having trouble communicating their feelings.

SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
• Fear, anxiety and avoidance that lasts longer than 6 months
• Constant dread of social events
• Clinging to familiar people at social gatherings
• Sweaty palms, shaky voice, trembling, nausea and difficulty speaking
• Avoids eye contact

HELPING YOUR CHILD COPE WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY
Firstly, speak to your child and acknowledge their fears. Validating their feelings and helping them connect the dots is a crucial step towards managing their physical symptoms and negative thoughts.
Teach your child problem solving skills by acting out various scenarios at home and help troubleshoot reactions to avoid anxiety. Give your child an example of when you feel anxious in social settings. Make the behaviour more relatable and show your child that their feelings of fear do not need to cripple their confidence or limit their interactions with others.


WHEN TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
If all efforts at home and school have been exhausted and the behaviour affects their ability to socialize and attend school, it’s time to call a professional. A child psychologist will use various methods to help your child overcome their social anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy works to improve the child’s attitude to enable coping mechanisms during anxiety fueled situations. This form of therapy teaches children to change their default anxious thought patterns and replace them with healthy methods to overcome fear.
In severe cases your psychologist might suggest cognitive therapy, coupled with pharmaceutical treatment to manage the social anxiety your child experiences.