We have all been scared of something at some point as kids. Whether it was the clown at the circus, a dark corner in the night, or even going to a test unprepared.
All you can feel is the knot in your stomach tightening further and further.
What did we do in response?
We avoided the circus. We left the toys in the corner because it was too terrifying to collect them as long as they were in the dark. We skipped the test and spent a night at a friend’s place to avoid our parents.
Social Anxiety in children shows similar patterns of fear and avoidance but in social settings. This could be among peers, friends, parents, family, and strangers.
Social anxiety in children is popularly known for stemming from the fear of embarrassment. For an individual that leaves this condition untreated, the symptoms of social anxiety in childhood stages tend to trickle into adulthood too.
Parents often wonder ‘At what age does social anxiety begin?’ and ‘What does social anxiety look like in a child?’.
The former question has no definite answer. Social anxiety can grip anybody at any time and even in an instant. There’s no specific onset that we can be on the lookout for, in fact, any event in the life of an individual can trigger social anxiety.
The social anxiety reasons could vary not just from person to person but from situation to situation. An event that triggered social anxiety in the teen years could be suppressed in memory and a new event in adulthood could spark the condition again.
To answer the second question, this is what social anxiety looks like in a child:
Social Anxiety in Children
1. Fear of embarrassment
Many of us are afraid of being embarrassed by our opinions and actions. We are afraid that people will laugh at us and mock us for the rest of our lives. Children face this problem too sometimes.
Something as simple as asking a professor a doubt might come off as a mammoth task to kids suffering from social anxiety. This is because they assume their doubts are trivial at best or even silly and that their friends would laugh at them for asking.
If a kid has somehow overcome the hesitancy and asked the doubt previously but was met with criticism or was laughed at then he/she might avoid that subject altogether. This is because they tend to attach fear and uneasiness to the subject or the professor.
This sign of social anxiety in children often occurs in the absence of parents or other adults who can observe it and worry about it. It is important for professors to spot such kids and inform the parents.
2. Fear of social situations
We have all wanted to avoid weddings as grown-ups but how many kids have, we observed feeling the same way?
Kids are usually the most excited to attend weddings, parties, and other such social events.
Some kids avoid all social gatherings to steer clear of any embarrassing situations. This is an obvious sign of social anxiety in children because even most ‘shy’ children would not miss a chance to party with their friends.
Please keep in mind, introverted kids would also avoid social gatherings every now and then but they do it for different reasons. They are more focused on their inward thoughts and find it difficult to share moments with large groups but are not extremely anxious about such events.
3. Shyness vs Social Anxiety
Remember that time when your parent asked you to sing a song in front of your uncles and aunts?
Yeah, me neither. Probably because I’ve wiped out the memory of it. 🙂
While shy people are also nervous to speak up in front of others, the fear doesn’t get the better of them all the time. However, this usually happens in new situations, when facing strangers or people you don’t know well enough or even when experimenting on something.
Social anxiety in children can cause them to face extreme levels of nervousness and fear when placed in social settings. They are afraid of scrutiny and it can very well cause a nervous breakdown.
What begins as shyness in performing for friends, family or even strangers, doesn’t stop there.
They might have a panic attack or run off stage just to avoid facing the crowd. This is because the fear has gripped them so hard, they much rather score a zero than receive any bad responses.
4. Fear of judgement
Why are they giggling now that I’m here? Is it something on my face? Is my outfit alright?
Let’s admit it, teenagers and young adults are not the only ones who face this problem.
Although kids are more popular for having a carefree attitude towards these things, social anxiety in children can drive them to worry about this too.
Children with social anxiety, often tend to overanalyze a situation. This tends to happen more with their friends and peers than with adults and must be observed for at least a duration of 6 months for it to be substantial evidence of the disorder.
A child could simply be nervous when he is asked to talk to an adult but if the child hesitates or seems extremely nervous to talk when in an environment involving his peers. This is something to worry about.
Another, fear of judgment comes when addressing the issue. Of course, children do not realize that they have social anxiety but they might be aware something isn’t right.
They are often too afraid to speak to their parents and peers about it, for fear of being judged. They assume their parents would not accept it and their peers would reject them.
If as a kid, you wonder: how do I communicate with my parents? Here is an article that could help: How to Talk to Your Parents About Getting Help
5. Physical Symptoms
As a parent, do you wonder: When should I be concerned about my child’s anxiety?
Well, here’s when. Social anxiety in children can show in the form of some very common symptoms. These symptoms are often neglected as they are confused with the child’s normal behavior.
It is important to remember, the child might be facing social anxiety for a while now but is not able to communicate it somehow. The symptoms then manifest as physical signs.
Excessive crying in anticipation of events or after the event is over, in anticipation of criticism is one such symptom. It is usually confused with stage fright.
Freezing or failing to speak in a social situation or when performing is another example of a symptom that could be confused with nervousness.
Throwing a parade of tantrums before an event or in the days building up to it is also a strong sign of social anxiety. It is the child’s way of acting out.
Some children might also shrink in their posture, feel palpitations, nervous sweating, dry tongue, clinging to parents, or even panic attacks in extreme conditions.
A medical practitioner must be approached to diagnose the child and for receiving effective treatment.
6. Avoiding all social events
From church choirs to reunions, it doesn’t matter if the child is surrounded by strangers or friends, she just wants no part of it.
Children suffering from severe social anxiety, tend to avoid all social settings irrespective of the people involved, the cause, or even how big or small the event is.
The list of events could include family weddings, an excuse to attend school, extracurricular activities, small parties at a friend’s, club events, charity drives, and even something as simple as visiting the grocery store where they might bump into someone.
This symptom is a direct consequence of the fear of embarrassment and the fear of being judged. Social anxiety in children can force them into avoiding the situation rather than facing it, to get rid of the nervousness momentarily. They choose flight over fight, to get rid of the fright.
7. Avoiding certain social events
That one time the birthday cake hit the ground before you could say, “Oh no!”, could leave your child anxious for quite some time. Children often blame themselves over extended periods for faults that might be small and pardonable.
The way a kid has been raised, all that he has been exposed to and overcritical adults that he may have observed can all add to the building of this habit.
We know that social anxiety in children can hamper their everyday life in many ways. However, some children tend to avoid only certain social gatherings and not all. This is probably because of a negative experience they have had in the past.
It is important to note that the habit of avoiding such events persists for long periods and is not simply the result of the child’s mood. If anything, just the thought of these events could alter his mood drastically.
Now that you are aware of some of the warning signs of social anxiety in children, let us address the question, most parents worry about.
Can you outgrow social anxiety?
Sadly, the answer is no.
Besides, like all mental health problems, social anxiety has treatments too. In order for an individual to overcome social anxiety, he will have to be patient and practice certain techniques to gain control of it first. Depending on the severity of the condition, medical intervention might be required in the form of therapy and drugs.
Leaving a child untreated for social anxiety, in the hopes that the condition will die down with time is a risk. This is because the condition will continue to affect him or her, even after moving into adulthood. In fact, the condition might worsen, the longer it is left unchecked.
Another risk would be, if the child represses his emotions or suffering, there is a risk of the condition being triggered by future events. Not something to look forward to.
To learn about methods for dealing with social anxiety, read: 5 Effective Methods on How to Overcome Social Anxiety
The article gives an oversight of the warning signs of social anxiety in children to watch out for. These signs are easy to miss in an everyday routine environment. It is important, therefore, that parents and professors maintain a keen eye on children. These symptoms can magnify over time if left unchecked. Through this article, we expect parents can spot the signs before the condition has progressed to a severe degree. There are other warning signs that might occur in a number of cases but the ones explained in this article are some of the common ones. We hope it helps adults to identify children who might need help.
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