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Social Anxiety in Children

Social Anxiety in Children

Social anxiety is a cause for concern as it is known to affect millions of children globally. It is a type of anxiety disorder. The following article provides information about the various causes and treatment options available for this condition.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Social anxiety, also known as social phobia is common among everyone. At some time in our life we all fear our reactions and behavior in a social environment. However, many children overcome this problem with time. But in some cases, the condition is so severe that the child is unable to answer questions in class or talk with his/her friends.

What is Social Anxiety?

Children are easily affected by their environment and nearly 15% are shy, withdrawn, and irritable with their surroundings. Studies indicate that most anxiety cases tend to start around the age of six and before 20. A constant fear of being ridiculed, humiliated, nervousness, and self-consciousness, specially in unfamiliar situations or when watched or evaluated by others, that results in serious consequences in a child's social and academic development is known as social anxiety. In such situations the child feels lonely, disappointed over missed opportunity to make friends, and may not get the most out of school. In some cases, where this condition is left untreated it may develop into psychological problems.

Causes

In children, this problem is caused due to genetic and/or life events and experiences (environmental factors). Inherited social anxiety disorder results from at least one socially anxious parent, or in same cases from a deficit of the chemical serotonin in the brain. Inherited social anxiety is known as behavioral inhibition. It is a perceived tendency to react negatively or suspiciously to situations; new or old.

Environment plays a vital role in shaping the minds and thoughts of young children. As children observe keenly, it is possible that they imitate their parents and peers reactions to circumstances and emulate it. Overprotected children also develop the fear of being ridiculed, this combined with a constant fear to do well, result in anxiousness in them. Physically and mentally impaired children who have to deal with mean and damaging behavior from their surroundings also tend to withdraw from social life. Social anxiety is also seen very prominently among children who have been victims of physical and sexual abuse.

How to Help Kids Overcome Social Anxiety?

As it is a psychological disorder, it needs therapy to overcome this condition. Appropriate assistance from therapists, parents, and other family members go a long way in helping children overcome their fears. Parents play a pivotal role in instilling confidence. Praising the child in front of others, encouraging him, downplaying failures, reassurance of love and support, allowing the child to speak without interrupting, encouraging participation in specific activities, etc. will help them get over the fear of being in public.

Teachers can sometimes do what the parents can't. They can bring out an assertiveness and confidence in children positively. However, the teachers should be equipped with knowledge and practical solutions to handle socially-anxious children/students. They should encourage participation by involving them in group as well as individual activities. They should improve their public speaking, debating, and impromptu speaking abilities. They should never single them out, unless one is confident that they will be able to handle the situation. Encouraging sports activity is also recommended, as playing together in team with children of the same age will help them get over their fear and shyness.

Therapists may help the children to downplay their social phobia by individually working on finding the causes and using ingenuity to help them. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also widely used to help this condition. Therapists also help children to deal with stress through relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. Role-playing, social skills training, and recalling positive experiences are all part of therapy.

Treatment

Treatment involves medication and lifestyle changes. Medication aims at reliving anxiety symptoms, and it is prescribed with other alternative treatment like therapy. The most common anxiety medications are antidepressants, beta blockers, and benzodiazepines. Certain lifestyle changes bring a positive feel and wellness around them. Make sure they get undisturbed, adequate sleep and a healthy nutritious diet. Limit the intake of caffeine and aerated drinks. Avoid smoking, shouting, and screaming in front of them and do not expose them to harsh environment.

Social anxiety in adults or children is not a disease, hence it has no complete cure. However, a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, therapy, emotional support, and encouragement will surely help maximize their potential and get past social phobia.