Social anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia. Social phobia is anxiety about social situations. A child with this disorder is afraid of being embarrassed or humiliated. Just thinking about going out in a social situation makes the child very anxious. These situations might include group activities, speaking in front of the class, eating in front of others, or answering questions. The child with social anxiety is very stressed in a social situation.
Most fears are normal at certain ages. For example, toddlers fear strangers and loud noises. Fears are different from anxiety. Fear is a reaction to danger that involves the mind and body. With anxiety, the feeling is that something bad could happen. Anxiety is not a response to something that is actually happening.
There are different ideas about how social anxiety develops. It may be the result of chemical imbalance in the brain. Social phobia tends to run in families. If a parent suffers from an anxiety disorder, it is more likely the child will too. The condition may also be learned. If parents are shy, they may not take their child to different places to meet different people, and the child will not learn to cope with new situations. Being scared or hurt might have started the anxiety. Being very self-critical might also lead to social anxiety.
Anxiety symptoms include:
Shy children will generally warm up and relax after a few minutes. Children with social anxiety find it very difficult to relax. Their anxiety interferes with things children normally do, such as make friends, play, participate in class, and even attend school. In severe forms social anxiety can lead to isolation from peers. It can also lead to lack of self-confidence, lack of self-esteem, and a lack of assertiveness skills.
Your healthcare provider or therapist will ask about your child's symptoms and any drug or alcohol use. Your child may have some lab tests to rule out medical problems.
You may want to contact a mental health therapist who specializes in working with children and teens. The therapist will ask questions, observe the child, and may give some special tests. Parents and teachers will also be asked about the child's behavior. The mental health specialist will assess:
There are several ways to treat social anxiety disorder. The first step is usually to help the child and parents learn about the disorder. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps children learn what causes them to feel anxious and how to control it. CBT might also include social skills training, role-playing, and learning relaxation skills. Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERPT) helps children to face their fears. Children learn ways to control their body's response to anxiety, like breathing exercises.
Sometimes medicine may be used as well as therapy. Your child’s healthcare provider will work with you and your child to carefully select the best one for the child.
Some children outgrow social anxiety. Others learn ways to manage their anxiety. However, without treatment, social phobia can last a lifetime. It is very important to get help early.
If you suspect that your child might have social phobia:
When social anxiety seriously interferes with school, making friends, or daily activities, your child needs help. Meet with a mental health specialist for a full assessment.