How to deal with social anxiety in children?

At the age of 4-5, children have the ability to see themselves as social beings . It is at the same time that they also develop the ability to avoid certain social settings or meeting people, both of which are signs of social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety among children is more widespread than one might think. This disorder can be detected at an early stage in the child’s life.

It is important to look for the right signs . The symptoms of social anxiety in a child are quite easy to notice because their behavior will differ greatly from that of their peers. Here we will look at what characterizes a child with social anxiety and shyness. How can you deal with this and what is the right treatment, if any?

First signs of social anxiety in children

As explained in the article on social anxiety, this disorder is a fear of being the focus of others’ attention and being evaluated negatively. Social anxiety among children is often experienced as a fear of certain social situations . These may be situations where the  child feels he is being evaluated  or associates with strangers.

A child with social anxiety may develop a fear of speaking. This can be caused by too many people gathered in one place. The child then fears that others will find them strange, boring or stupid. For the child, this can have very inhibiting consequences in everyday life, because they may refuse to speak in any social situation.

It is not just talking that can be experienced as uncomfortable for children with this diagnosis. Just meeting new people can in itself be experienced as threatening situations, but this also applies to taking part in birthday parties or eating in front of others.


Shyness and other symptoms of social anxiety among children

Shyness among children is often a clear sign that they are developing social anxiety. It can be called social anxiety when the shyness has become so strong that it prevents normal functioning in everyday life.

Children with social anxiety and shyness are often also very conscientious and calm. They don’t want to make a big deal out of themselves to attract unnecessary attention. Therefore, it is important for them to follow the rules and do what they are asked to do.

This is a strategy they have adopted to increase their ability to adapt to their surroundings. However, one point they may not be able to adapt to is expressing social signals such as smiling when meeting new people. At the same time, they may have great difficulty being spontaneous in social situations or be poorly adaptable. This is because they have acquired a strategy to avoid social settings.

This is how children cope with their social anxiety disorders

Children who suffer from social anxiety often develop their own strategy to cope with the unpleasantness they experience. Often the child will have a strategy where they avoid social situations. It is in human nature to  avoid situations that are perceived as dangerous . Furthermore, this can cause the problems to persist and become stronger over time. In the worst case, such behavior can lead to isolation.

In other cases, the child may act out. This can happen because they experience a social situation as threatening. They therefore feel fear and express this through both physical and verbal disturbances.

A child suffering from social anxiety wants to be social and play with others. But because they feel uncomfortable in social situations, they believe that other children do not want to be with them. They explain what they experience in this way because their vocabulary is not sufficiently developed.

Treatment of social anxiety in children

It is important that you who are parents or staff at nurseries and schools pay attention to the symptoms explained above. Children with social anxiety disorders need a lot of support and encouragement to overcome their disorders. In today’s society, it is easy to pay the most attention to those who shout the loudest and think the most. Introverted and quiet children can therefore easily be forgotten  and overlooked.

It is important that children are respected, seen and active in a safe environment. Those of you who are employees of nurseries and schools have a special responsibility to notice social difficulties among children. Then also follows a responsibility to facilitate challenges and support during the training.

Challenges through exposure must be manageable, but at the same time difficult enough to learn from. The point is that the child should experience mastery of an unpleasant situation. Even if the child withdraws from the situation, he must experience praise and support from you adults who should always be nearby. The child has given it a try and that in itself deserves good feedback.

At the same time, it is important to try to talk to the child about what he is feeling. A child who suffers from social anxiety will usually not have the opportunity to talk about it or tell what they feel. A child usually feels all discomfort through the stomach, therefore it is easy to misinterpret a stomachache in a child and think it is, for example, allergies or another illness. Then it is all the more important that you who are guardians or staff at nurseries and schools talk to them about the suffering they are going through.