Most parents do not see the signs of social anxiety disorder in their child. Most parents assume that they just have a quiet child or that the child is shy
Social Anxiety is often misunderstood as being shy. Kids are usually quiet in new situations or around new people. A shy child will watch, observe and slowly dare to explore and interact with the new scenario. It may take a few hours or a few days, but eventually, the child will warm up and adapt. However, a child with a social anxiety disorder will not dare to attempt any form of interaction or involvement in a new scenario and will withdraw to the point of invisibility. It is essential for parents, teachers and other primary caregivers to be able to tell the difference between a shy child and one struggling with social anxiety.
About SOCIAL ANXIETY
Young children between ages 8 and 13, and those in their early teens are two age categories prone to social anxiety disorder. While some research says there is a genetic component involved, the most notable cause for social anxiety disorder is a radical change and acute awareness of the same. Children in the first category are becoming more aware of themselves, they are interpreting the world around them better and forming their own ideas and notions. Likewise, teenagers are going through a lot of hormonal changes that cause drastic changes to their physical appearance, which can be quite harrowing for many.
All of these fears and assumptions cause the child to withdraw from society and hide from any form of social interaction.
AVOIDING/HIDING MAKES SOCIAL ANXIETY WORSE
Initially, it might seem easier to just avoid stressful scenarios than go through with them. As parents, it is hard to watch one’s child tear up or freeze in an ordinary social situation, and we tend to support the child’s decision to avoid the scenario entirely, by not participating. In doing this you are not protecting your child from anxiety, instead, you are enabling the villainous disorder to overpower and ensnare your child.
TIPS FOR HELPING YOUR CHILD COPE WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER
#1 Explain Social Anxiety Disorder to the child. Often parents of young children with Social Anxiety Disorder, do not deem it right or necessary to talk about the condition with the child. Not knowing why, they feel worried or anxious most of the time, will make the child more upset, leading to emotional meltdowns. Instead attempting to explain to your child what to expect, without scaring or scarring them, can help them understand and try to rationalize when they feel a panic attack coming on.
#2 Teach the child to see things more positively. The main problem that kids with social anxiety disorder face is having negative thoughts. They always think the worst is going to happen – that they will say/do something and be humiliated in front of other people, and that includes even close family. This is why they would rather keep to themselves. The child must be made to understand that nobody is perfect and that making a mistake is how everyone learns. The child needs to feel safe and that nobody is out to get them.
#3 Share your own experiences of anxiety. While not everyone has a social anxiety disorder, everyone undergoes painful, stressful experiences. Losing someone, relocating to a new place, moving to a new school, taking up a new job, or switching streams in college or work – these are some common scenarios that can cause anxiety. Share your experience, your misgivings and how you worked your way through it. This exercise helps the child realise that he/she is not alone in feeling anxious and that the feeling can be overcome.
#4 Practice and prepare for public interactions. For children, the most common spot for interacting with others is at school. For some kids even saying “Hi!” can cause a great deal of anxiety. One way to slowly master public interaction is by practising at home. The child can stand in front of the mirror and practice small mundane conversations. With more practice, the child may eventually be able to muster up the courage to say a few words in public.
#5 Celebrate every sign of progress. Do not wait for the day your child gives a moving speech to an audience of a thousand to recognise progress. Every little step forward is a sign of progress worth cheering for. Including the child taking the initiative to practice in front of the mirror! When you celebrate all the small victories, it nudges your child to dare to take bigger risks.
#6 Allow time for worrying. Do not dismiss your child’s worries without hearing them out. What might seem trivial or even silly to you, might be important to your child. The minute you undermine his/her worries, the child will shut you out. Even if you do not understand why something quite as simple as asking the grocer the cost of a bag of tomatoes is so difficult, do not mock the child. Instead, see how you can help him/her overcome the panic attack and eventually get to ask the question. Listen to what your child has to say, and with logic and anecdotal sharing help them understand that all of their worries can be overcome by some positive thinking and self-confidence.
#7 Equip them with tools to overcome anxiety. Taking a deep breath and counting backwards from five, is often enough to calm anyone down. Instead of running away and hiding, teach your child to take calm, deep breaths. Once physical symptoms such as heart rate or perspiration, are under control, the child usually calms down. He/she may not be ready to indulge in whatever brought on the panic attack, but the fact that they did not run away, is a definitive sign of progress.
#8 Seek professional help. Most parents do not see the signs of social anxiety disorder in their children. Most parents assume that they just have a quiet child or that the child is shy and will eventually come out of their shell. It is only when the child expresses physical symptoms like stomach-ache or tremors that parents notice something is amiss. Even then it may take a while for parents to acknowledge and accept the fact that their child is going through mental duress. However, the sooner you get help for the child, the better. A child psychologist will be able to provide the child with the necessary tools to face tough situations and improve their mental health.
BACHELOR OF SCIENCE IN PSYCHOLOGY,MASTER OF SCIENCE IN APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY,MASTER OF PHILOSOPHY IN CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY