Social Anxiety in Children

DEC 12, 2020

Individuals suffering from social anxiety find themselves experiencing a sense of extreme fear in social situations. This goes beyond the discomfort experienced by shyness, and can involve a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms.

These symptoms include an increased heart rate, shallow breathing, nausea, dizziness, sweating, difficulty or inability to speak, a feeling of dread for days before one has to engage in social situations, and the like. The symptoms are restricted to social situations and they lead to an avoidance of such situations whenever possible. These feelings of anxiety or social phobia may be limited to specific activities such as speaking or eating in public, or they may be more pervasive. The latter involves experiencing social anxiety in all social situations outside of one’s comfort group.

Social anxiety is not restricted to adolescents and adults alone, but can also manifest in children. However, it is essential to differentiate the normal uneasiness that young children feel in new environments and around new people, from social phobia. It is also important to make sure that there isn’t a bigger underlying emotional or developmental problem that is causing impairments in social functioning.

Children with social phobia begin exhibiting symptoms before the age of six. They tend to be extremely fearful of unfamiliar people - be it adults or children around their own age. However, they are at ease around their parents or other familiar people. Depending upon the age of the child, symptoms of social phobia can manifest in a variety of ways.

Very young children may persistently cling to their parents while in the presence of others, and may also be extremely irritable in social situations. They are prone to crying and refusing to speak. It is easier to detect social phobia in school-aged children as the social set up of a school makes it easier to look for symptoms. In a school set up, children with social phobia may experience an intense fear of speaking out loud, or being the centre of attention - be it in the classroom or on a stage. They almost never raise their hands to ask questions or give answers in a classroom, and avoid all activities that involve performing in front of a group of people. However, social phobia does not always manifest as fear of large crowds. Some children are more comfortable with a bigger crowd than with a smaller group of people. Nevertheless, this fear can also be more diffused and result in a difficulty in speaking to both classmates and teachers. They may also exhibit physical symptoms such as stomachache and nausea. In their teenage years, children with social anxiety tend to be extremely afraid of being scrutinised by their peers. However, this is common to most adolescents and therefore it does not fulfill the criteria for social phobia on its own. Socially anxious children tend to be withdrawn and have a very small circle of friends, of any. The fear of being embarrassed is so intense that it causes severe impairments in social functioning.

The implications of social anxiety on other spheres. of functioning are also significant. Not only does it cause intense, entail distress to children, but mor soften than not, it also negatively affects their confidence and self esteem. In some instance, it may also have an adverse effect on their academic performance. In addition to this, socially phobic children may also be at risk for other emotional problems such as childhood depression.

Therefore, it is essential to keep an eye out on the social well-being of children and guide them through social situations gently. It is also imperative to seek professional help in order to best understand how to help your child. Undisguised and untreated social anxiety not only leads to a stressful childhood, but it may also continue well into one’s adult years. However, with the right care and support, most children tend to leave the worst of their social phobia behind.