By Huda Al Bukhari, Psychologist and Clinical Psychology Registrar.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is when a child is fearful of social or performance situations. They fear that they will say or act in a way, that will result in being humiliated or embarrassed. They are fearful of being judged by others or negatively evaluated.
Some common physical signs of social anxiety
- Feeling dizzy
- Heart beating fast
- Tense muscles
Some common emotional signs of social anxiety
- Worrying that they will be humiliated or embarrassed in front of others
- Worrying that others will judge them negatively
- Worrying that others will notice that they are anxious
- Intense anxiety when anticipating a social situation
Some common behavioural signs of social anxiety
- They avoid speaking in class
- They avoid attending playdates or catching up with friends
- They have difficulty making friends or working in groups
- They avoid eating or drinking in public, or using public toilets
How can you help your child if they are socially anxious?
- Showing empathy: During this time, a child should not be criticised or punished for avoiding social situations or worrying about them. This will only cause them to feel ashamed about their feelings. Your child is experiencing a lot of anxiety and that can be very overwhelming for them. It is important to listen to your child and validate their feelings (eg “I can see how much this worries you”).
- Use ‘detective thinking skills’: Your child is probably having a lot of “scary” or “anxious” thoughts. These thoughts are called “unhelpful thoughts” and can make your child feel more anxious. Encourage your child to be a detective and help them explore their thoughts. For example, if your child is afraid that people on the street will laugh at them, you can ask your child some of these questions: “what happened when you walked on the street last time?” or “is likely to happen?” or “what has happened to other people when they have walked on the street?”
- Encourage your child to face social situations: Encourage your child to face their fears. You can discuss with your child a small achievable goal. Remember not to punish or criticise your child if they find it too difficult. Just reassure them that you two will work on it again or come up with a goal that is a little easier. If a child faces their fears, let them know how brave they are and show them how pleased you are with their efforts. Your child showed immense courage and deserves to be rewarded.
- Seek professional assistance: As a parent, it can be very confusing, stressful and/or difficult to face these challenges alone with your child. Psychologists can help provide more information, provide evidence-based skills and techniques, and help guide you and your child through this time. Talk to your GP or contact us on email@example.com or 02 9420 0896 to make an appointment.