Make sure to check out my other post: Social Anxiety in Teens – From A Teen’s Perspective.
There is nothing worse than seeing your child in pain and not being able to do anything about it. It’s a helpless feeling. Your first instinct is to shelter your child from any situation that might cause him or her pain, stress or discomfort. At least, I know that’s how I feel when it comes to dealing with my daughter’s social anxiety.
The following information is from careforyourmind.org and describes exactly how things happened with my daughter:
Social anxiety disorder is sometimes called a silent disorder because it can affect children for years before it is diagnosed. As children grow and mature, they learn how to avoid being the focus of attention at school or home; as a result, their extreme discomfort in social situations can go unnoticed.
Because children with social phobia are generally content and compliant around home, and because parents do not receive reports of misbehavior at school, many families fail to recognize a problem until their child is already withdrawn from activities and peers. By this point, the child may be experiencing extreme isolation and falling behind developmentally and academically.
Sometimes social phobia goes undiagnosed because parents confuse it with shyness. Shyness is a temperament; it is not debilitating the way social anxiety disorder is. A shy child may take longer to warm up to a situation, but they eventually do. Also, a shy child engages with other kids, just at a different level of intensity than their peers. In contrast, children with social phobia will get very upset when they have to interact with people. It is a frightening situation for them, and one they would rather avoid altogether.
The average age of onset is 13 years, but you can see social phobia as early as 3 and 4 years old. In young children, it may take the form of selective mutism, meaning that the child is afraid to speak in front of other kids, their teachers, or just about anyone outside of the immediate family.
In elementary school, children with social phobia may start to refuse activities and you see kids dropping out of Scouts or baseball. By middle school, they may be avoiding all extracurricular activities and social events. And by high school, they may refuse to go to school and exhibit signs of depression.
Social Anxiety in Teens – From A Mom’s Perspective
This is what happened with my daughter. By her sophomore year of high school, she became increasingly depressed. She refused to go to school and talked about killing herself. I had no idea that she was going through these things. I felt like a failure as a mom. How did I NOT know that this was going on with my child?!
So, how do you know if your child is suffering from social anxiety?
Parents can help prevent social phobia from taking hold by being attuned to warning signs and symptoms. These questions highlight warning signs:
- Is a child uncomfortable speaking to teachers or peers?
- Does he or she avoid eye contact, mumble or speak quietly when addressed by other people?
- Does a child blush or tremble around other people?
- Does a young child cry or throw a tantrum when confronted with new people?
- Does a child express worry excessively about doing or saying something “stupid”?
- Does a child or teen complain of stomach-ache and want to stay home from school, field trips or parties?
- Is he or she withdrawing from activities and wanting to spend more time at home?
If a parent observes these signs, a doctor or mental health professional can help evaluate the child and determine if the disorder is present.
Understand parents’ role
For most young people, social phobia is successfully treated with therapy and sometimes medication. Additional support and accommodations at home can support recovery. For example, we know that some parents unknowingly contribute to a child’s condition by protecting them from situations that cause discomfort. If a teacher says “hello” and asks a child his or her name, the parent may answer: “His name is John. He’s a little shy.” The parent is stepping in to make the situation less stressful for their child, but a simple act like that can exacerbate the disorder because it does not help the child learn to manage the feelings and anxiety such an interaction invokes.
I was totally doing this and not even realizing it with my daughter. Her therapist suggested gradual exposure to new social experiences. These “experiments” were meant to help build social skills and help her feel more confident about her abilities. She had to go outside of her comfort zone and push herself to be social. My daughter had to do things such as go into her favorite store and ask a sales associate for help. She also had to go order her food for herself the next time we went to a restaurant. Normally, her dad or I would order for her because she would feel too uncomfortable. She has gotten a lot better about this with practice.
The important thing to remember about social anxiety disorder is that there are effective ways of turning it around. Anxiety is a natural emotion and we all have the ability to harness it; some kids just need extra help developing those skills. With medication and therapy, my daughter is in a much better place now, and I feel much better as a parent. I had to learn not to blame myself and to move forward with doing the right thing once I knew what was wrong. Learning how to empower your child, rather than enable the anxiety, can help them lead a rich and full life.
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