How to Care for Your Socially-Anxious Child
Social anxiety is a condition that many individuals experience throughout their life, regardless of age. It can develop from conditions outside of your control. After experiencing social distancing and isolation from the pandemic, it is no surprise that social anxiety may be experienced as gatherings begin to normalize again. Social anxiety is most common in youngsters, especially those that have lacked human contact for long periods. As your child begins their new school year, it may be helpful to bring awareness to social anxiety symptoms and available treatments. There are common warning signs and symptoms that will help you to understand what your child is experiencing. Through education, you will be able to know when signs and symptoms become severe and when to seek out resources and treatment for your child.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder that brings about overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear during specific or all social situations. Common experiences where social anxiety may be present can include meeting new people, partaking in a job interview, answering questions in a class, or public speaking. Everyday things such as eating or drinking around other people can also contribute to distressing emotions in individuals that have social anxiety.
For someone to experience social anxiety, the fear and anxiety that is experienced in social situations impair an individual's daily functioning. Their fear becomes beyond their control. This may interfere with academic performance, forming or maintaining relationships, or contributing to sports or other activities.
Warning Signs and Symptoms Of A Socially-Anxious Child
When your child is around others, they may have social anxiety if they:
- Have an abnormal increase in heart rate
- Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach
- Make little to no eye contact
- Find it frightening to be around other people
- Have difficulty making friends
- Fear that others will judge them
- Are very self-conscious about what others think or feel
- Are embarrassed or awkward
- Significant distress in social or academic functioning
- Avoid conversation
- Experience trembling
Social anxiety can run in families or develop through personal experiences, although the cause of social anxiety remains unknown. Several parts of the brain are associated with fear and anxiety. If these parts of the brain are underdeveloped, or if your child has undeveloped social skills, these factors may contribute to social anxiety. The first helpful tip would be to make sure your child understands and is educated about their social anxiety.
Teach Your Child Mindfulness Techniques
Children need to learn about the variety of resources readily available to use when feelings of anxiety and overwhelm surface. Mindfulness holds numerous benefits. As it is often recommended as a self-help treatment for states of stress and anxiety, your child can also benefit significantly from mindfulness. Introduce the following resources before your child reaches a state of distress so that they can put these practices to use as needed.
Deep breathing is a practice of mindfulness. Focusing on your breath can calm a rapid heart rate, control shallow breathing, and reduce symptoms of nausea and dizziness.
Muscle relaxation is another form of mindfulness. This combines deep breathing with body scanning and can help with anxiety when children tense and tighten their muscles. Teach your child to relax their muscles and release tension by beginning with their facial muscles, working down to their feet. Tense up each area of focus for about five seconds, and then release tension. You are teaching your child to focus their energy inward, on the things that they can control.
Work Through Relational Skills
Although you are not responsible for making friends for your child, you can work with them to develop friendship and other social skills. You can use role-play techniques with stuffed animals or other people, acting as role models to help your child find comfort in social situations. You can do this by initiating conversation, teaching your child when to listen and when to respond, asking follow-up questions during conversations, and even when you greet your child.
Encourage Mood Awareness
When anxiety becomes out of control, it can cause a person to lack emotional regulation. When you spend time connecting with your child through conversation or playing, you can teach your child empathy. By nurturing empathy in your child, they are more likely to catch on to feelings of compassion. You can also encourage curiosity, by asking them questions so they can better understand their thoughts and emotions.
Using positive affirmations can be effective too. Positive affirmations are "I am" statements that people use when they want to foster healthy self-esteem. For example, if your child believes they are unintelligent, encouraging them to consistently say “I am intelligent” can help reform their belief.
Allowing your child to have “worry time" sets aside a specific time that your child can constructively worry. This practice helps them identify triggers as well as solutions for situations that they may consider scary. This reinforces the idea that there are safe environments to navigate worry when distressing thoughts arise. Treatment is another option to consider, as your child can benefit from the treatment options available for social anxiety.
Fall brings about the start of a new school year. Over the last year, the isolation and social distancing of the pandemic may have caused your child to develop symptoms of social anxiety. Your child may have social anxiety if they become fearful or anxious amid social gatherings or public speaking. Their social anxiety may impair academic performance or interfere with forming and maintaining relationships. If you believe your child has social anxiety, there are ways that you, as a parent, can help. You can foster positive coping mechanisms in them, such as mindful breathing or muscle relaxation. You can also educate them on social anxiety, explaining that it is commonly experienced in children and that there are effective solutions available. You may also help them with relational skills and mood awareness. Treatment is available for children that experience distressing symptoms of social anxiety. Call Achieve Medical today at (619) 375-3977.