Anxiety in Children

Social Anxiety

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is persistent fear of social and/or performance situations due to beliefs that one will say or do something that will eventuate in humiliation or embarrassment. These concerns can become so consuming and so serious that social interactions are avoided or endured with intense discomfort. Social anxiety can vary in children and adolescents; some children may only feel anxious and attempt to avoid speaking or performing in public (e.g., oral presentations), while other children fear and avoid a wide range of social situations and experience significant difficulties developing and maintaining meaningful friendships.

Social anxiety can develop on the back of a stressful or embarrassing experience or can snowball over time. It can be easy to miss social anxiety, as often children who are socially anxiety come across as being quiet and obedient/compliant in school. If not addressed early, social anxiety can lead to poor school performance, reduced confidence in social situations and in the self, difficulties developing and maintaining friendships, depression, and later substance misuse.

Symptom Checklist

  • Does your child appear shy or withdrawn e.g. declining social invitations and staying home on weekends rather than going out with friends
  • Have you noticed your child experiencing difficulties making friends or joining in groups
  • Does your child have a limited number of friends
  • Does your child avoiding social situations in which they are the centre of attention (e.g., answering questions in class, oral presentations)
  • Have you noticed your child having difficulties maintaining eye contact with others
  • Does your child tend to ask for yourself or another trusted adult to be present for social situations
  • Does your child attempt to avoid going to school, especially in the event of a situation where they would have to be the focus of attention (e.g., show-and-tell)
  • Does your child have difficulties making purchases from the supermarket or ordering food on their own

What Treatments are Recommended for Social anxiety?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for social anxiety. The key components of CBT involves teaching children to understand and manage social anxiety through recognising their anxious body signs and unhelpful thought patterns which maintain their anxiety. Children are then taught various strategies including relaxation training and ways to develop more realistic and adaptive interpretations of social situations. Treatment for social phobia also incorporates gradual exposure to a variety of social situations which they have identified as difficult for them, so that they can practice implementing their new coping skills under the guidance of the psychologist.

Sources and Useful Resources