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What is the Best Advice to Help Children Overcome Social Anxiety?

By: Bethany Pepe on July 31st, 2019

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What is the Best Advice to Help Children Overcome Social Anxiety?

One might wonder what it is like to suffer from social anxiety. Imagine being in a social situation with the constant thought or fear of being judged for being quiet or for blushing. In the classroom, an individual is anxious about presenting in front of the class. His or her focus and attention is diverted towards their pounding heart, warm cheeks, and trembling voice instead of the presentation topic. Walking down the hallway or participating in class might make a student uneasy due to the perceived judgment of others. 

What Is Social Anxiety?

 

Social anxiety is a disorder that can affect anyone. It can affect many different facets of an individual’s life, including relationships, careers, and academic achievement. Continue reading to learn how to identify the signs of social anxiety in children and how to support a child suffering from social anxiety.

 

According to the National Social Anxiety Institute, social anxiety is often misunderstood by others, including people in the medical profession. It’s more common than most people are aware of, and most people experience social anxiety at least once in their lives. Social anxiety is much more intense than shyness - it’s a disorder that produces intense fears and phobias in people. 

 

It affects people when they’re immersed in a social situation and or when they’re performing a task in which they fear being judged by others. A person suffering from social anxiety fears the possibility of scrutiny by others, and in turn, the person worries that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing or humiliating. Social anxiety symptoms impact children and adults differently and can stem from a traumatic situation. Without treatment, it can become more severe as you age. However, with the proper support and coping skills, we can empower our children to overcome their social anxieties. 

 

Who Does It Affect and Why? 

 

  • 15 million Americans are affected by anxiety (per The Anxiety and Depression Association of America). 
  • 3% - 6.8% of children under the age of 12 are affected. The rate is slightly higher for children that are 12-17 years old, with the average age of diagnosis being 13 (per the The National Institute of Mental Health) 
  • Children under the age of four who exhibits shyness, tends to develop social anxiety (per the The National Institute of Mental Health). 
  • Social anxiety arises from a complex interaction of biological and environmental factors (per the Mayo Clinic). It stems from the interactions of: 
    • An overactive part of the brain
    • Inherited traits
    • The environment


The Mayo Clinic recognizes the following risk factors: family history, negative experiences, temperament, new social and work demands, as well as, having an appearance or condition that draws attention.

 

With society's pressure to be successful in one's endeavors, The National Institute of Anxiety mentions that social anxiety causes students to be hypersensitive to criticism and evaluation. Due to feedback or reactions from peers, students can also become depressed over perceived failures and thus experience a lack of confidence. The Mayo Clinic mentions that a student making an important presentation at school may experience symptoms for the first time.  

 

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What are the Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Social Anxiety?

 

Social anxiety prevents people from trying new things. Signs that your child might be experiencing social anxiety include:

  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Low academic achievement
  • Unwillingness to make new friends
  • Refusal to participate during class. 
  • Refusal to participate in sports or other activities
  • Acting out negatively to avoid social situations 
  • Concerns about presenting or speaking in front of others
  • Blaming others for their perceived failures


There are two main questions to ask yourself if you are concerned that your child is suffering from social anxiety:

  • Have the symptoms made a significant impact on your child’s life?  
  • Have the symptoms lasted for more than 6 months?  


It is normal to be anxious when participating in a new activity, as well as when meeting new people. However, it should be noted when the anxiety produces such intense symptoms that performance is affected. 

 

Students and children may avoid and refuse to participate in activities, which might be seen as though they are not following the classroom’s expectations. Social anxiety consumes your thoughts with the worry of others judging, and the fear of embarrassment or humiliation of oneself. 

 

Social anxiety symptoms can range from mild to severe. According to the Mayo Clinic, a few of the symptoms include but are not limited to the following: 

  •   Blushing and flushing of the face
  •   Rapid heartbeat 
  •   Breathlessness 
  •   Dizziness
  •   Trembling voice
  •   Upset stomach and or nausea 
  •   Excessive sweating



Coping Skills and Resources

 

Yes, the symptoms that are listed above sound unpleasant, but there are ways we can help our children cope with and manage their social anxiety. The first step is to teach and help the child recognize their symptoms. By recognizing the symptoms you can then provide them with strategies and coping skills to better manage their social anxiety. This will allow them to take their thoughts off the anxiety as soon as they feel a symptom. Coping skills will help them to relax and gain confidence in social situations. For a great resource on utilizing a growth mindset when helping students overcome anxiety, check out: 7 Effective Ways to Help Children Overcome Social Anxiety.

 

Here are a few examples of coping skills and strategies that you can try with your child. Be sure to ask your child for their input when creating and implementing the skills and strategies below:

  • Deep belly breathing. Have your child practice this by pulling the belly in when inhaling counting to 10, then slowly push their tummy out when exhaling counting to 10.

  • Help them find a mantra. Direct your child to repeat a saying to themselves as soon as they begin to feel anxious. This can be a silly rhyme or a favorite quote.
    • Example: “I am _____.” “This too shall pass”, “All is well, I am safe”.

  • Practice positive self-talk together. Help build their self-esteem and confidence. Fill their worrisome thoughts with positive affirmations.
    • Example: I know I can do this. I have worked hard and am able to do this. I know I can. I am a good friend.

  • Encourage your child to carry a safety or sensory item. They can rub or hold the item when they feel worried.
    • Example: Small “worry rock”, stuffed animal, or a small item of their choosing that fits in a pocket.

  • Journaling/Worry-free box: Teenagers can use this to help them get their worries out and it also allows them to see their growth. Have your child tell you their worry, ask them what we will do if that happened, then write it down and put it in the box.

 

It is important to practice these strategies and remind your child to use their coping skills consistently. Set goals and celebrate small successes, especially when your child uses their coping skills independently. For example, show your excitement and celebrate together when they participate in class or make a new friend from the cafeteria. When you are ready to put their social skills to the test, prepare and ready them for the new situation. You can do this by role-playing, ask when they think they might need to use their coping skills, and lastly give them confidence by reassuring them that they can do it. 

 

As mentioned earlier, social anxiety can stem from a traumatic experience. In the school setting, that traumatic situation could be due to a child being a victim of bullying. If your child is a victim of bullying, assure them that it’s not their fault. For additional information on signs that your child might be a victim of bullying please read the following article: 4 Signs Your Child May be Experiencing Bullying. If your child has experienced bullying, the focus now shifts to empowering him or her to overcome the possible effects of bullying. For more tips on how to help a child that has been bullied, please be sure to read this article, What to Do if Your Child is Bullied & Tips for Prevention. 

 

Cyber Schools Can Be a Good Environment 

 

If your child is suffering from social anxiety and their academic performance is being affected, it might be helpful to remove the student from the situation to an environment that will allow them to gain confidence and overcome their social anxiety. 

 

Cyber school can help a child learn to utilize their coping skills and gain confidence that can help to improve their academic achievement as well as improve their confidence in social situations. If you choose a cyber school model, it is not only important to teach coping skills, but it is equally important to immerse them in social situations that require them to use their skills. This will help them to gain confidence in using their newly attained strategies in social settings. It is also important to allow your child the ability to employ their strategies on their own. 

 

Social anxiety can be debilitating and hinder academic success; it is important to provide your child with the tools and coping skills to help overcome social anxiety symptoms. Continue to challenge them to overcome anxieties, and celebrate their successes. Together you can help them to become their best selves, both academically and socially.

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About the Author: Bethany Pepe is a PA Virtual Guidance Counselor for students in grades k-4.

 

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič - @specialdaddy on Unsplash