Mental illness often carries a stigma that makes people hesitate to seek help. However, the earlier you identify the signs of a mental illness, the more likely individuals will overcome their issues and live a more productive life. One of the most overlooked mental illnesses among children is a social anxiety disorder.
Understanding the symptoms and how they can be treated will help you get your child the help they need to feel more confident. Social anxiety can severely negatively impact a person’s life, so treatment is essential for a healthy, happy lifestyle.
What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Knowing the social anxiety disorder definition can help guide you through the process of getting help for your child. While some think a child is simply shy, social anxiety goes beyond common shyness.
The definition of social anxiety is an excessive level of discomfort in everyday social situations. Individuals who suffer from this condition often worry about what other people think of them and fear saying or doing something embarrassing.
These feelings are typical to a degree, but those who suffer from social anxiety feel them at a much higher level. When untreated, children may experience feelings of isolation and depression. Therefore, parents need to pay close attention to their children to identify any signs of the disorder to ensure children get the help they need as early as possible.
When children suffer from this condition, they often feel hesitant to join in activities, such as sports, music and other everyday extra-curricular activities. They may fear getting up in front of the class, making uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, many people push these feelings aside as typical feelings of shyness or even usual awkwardness among adolescents. This can lead to a lack of treatment long-term severe consequences.
Some of the common triggers of symptoms can include:
- Meeting new people
- Making small talk
- Public speaking
- Using public bathrooms
- Attending social events
- Being the centre of attention
- Performing on stage
- Eating or drinking in public
- Being called on in class
Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
The first step is to identify symptoms of social anxiety in your child. Many parents today aren’t as involved in their child’s lives as in the past and thus miss apparent signs that their child needs support and help. Learning about the signs of social anxiety will help you seek help quickly, so your child has the best chance of success.
The symptoms of social anxiety often appear in several forms, including emotional, physical and behavioral.
Emotional symptoms include:
- Feeling overly self-conscious in public situations
- Intense worry that lasts longer than normal
- Extreme feelings of fear
- Fear of embarrassment
Physical symptoms may exhibit as:
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Feeling dizzy
- Shortness of breath
- Racing heart rate or chest tightness
Some children also exhibit behavioral symptoms of social anxiety, such as:
- Avoiding social situations
- Keeping quiet rather than speaking up
- Bringing a friend along at all times for comfort
Some of these symptoms may indicate another issue, but the bottom line is parents need to take notice and take the appropriate steps. While there is no specific social anxiety disorder test, there are ways a medical professional can determine if this is the condition your child may be suffering from.
For instance, a therapist can determine if the child’s symptoms are severe enough to impede a child’s normal function. Making an appointment with a trained mental health professional should be your first course of action.
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
There are many treatment options for social anxiety, which means there are plenty of methods you can try to ensure you find the right one for your child. Social anxiety disorder treatment is never the same for any two people, whether children or adults. The first and most crucial step is to reach out to a professional.
Making an appointment with a therapist provides your child with someone they can trust to talk about their feelings and learn potential coping strategies. Therapists can use several techniques to help a child handle their feelings more productively.
For example, play therapy may be used with younger patients. In contrast, other patients may benefit more from talking out their feelings or expressing themselves through other avenues, such as art or music. Some therapists may even use hypnotherapy or other newly developed techniques to reach patients of all ages.
Some of the most common treatments therapists may use to benefit a child suffering from anxiety include:
- Relaxation techniques
- Positive self-talk
- Clinical exposure to the feared setting
- Learning coping strategies
If therapy by itself isn’t working to resolve the symptoms of social anxiety, social anxiety disorder medication may be prescribed by a licensed psychologist. At the same time, many parents hesitate to use medication to manage their child’s mental illness. However, sometimes it is necessary to help children overcome their fears and become more productive in their lives.
As long as you are working with a psychologist who has experience treating children, you can feel confident in the medication outcome. You will need to continue seeing a psychologist for medication management.
Some of the common medications used to treat social anxiety disorder include:
These medications are classified as SSRI. Those who may need some additional help may prescribe a sedative like Valium. This is not typically used unless necessary. When it comes to medicating a child, the goal is to give only what is necessary and not as a long-term solution if possible.
In addition to providing treatment specifically for social anxiety, a therapist or psychologist will also look for signs of another related issue. Depression, for instance, is commonly diagnosed in children who suffer from social anxiety. Other medical issues could also be at play, which visiting the pediatrician is an essential step in the process.
What Can You Do?
One of the biggest concerns parents have how they can help their child overcome social anxiety disorder. The mental illness often leaves parents wondering what they have done wrong or feeling helpless when their child struggles with something they can’t see or touch.
However, one of the best things parents can do is be there for their children and support them through words and actions. However, there are specific steps you can take to help your child feel more comfortable and confident in their daily lives.
- Stay Calm — It can be frustrating to deal with a child who seems out of control of their emotions, but it’s essential. Children often look to their parents for cues on how to handle a given situation. Calmly talking to your child will help them learn how to deal with their feelings and overcome social anxiety properly.
- Don’t Punish — Punishing a child for their feelings is counterproductive. For instance, threatening to take away privileges if your child doesn’t complete a speech at school will only feed into their feelings of inadequacy. Your child needs your understanding.
- Praise Accomplishments — It’s a lot of work to overcome the symptoms of social anxiety. Therefore, it’s essential to notice the small things and give your child praise. When your child sees you appreciate their efforts and what they have accomplished, they may be more willing to try something else.
- Plan Transitions — Transitions can be challenging for a child going through social anxiety. For this reason, it’s best to plan for any transitions ahead of time. When your child knows what to expect, they are more likely to feel comfortable in the situation.
- Communicate with Teachers and Coaches — It’s essential for your child to feel confident when discussing their feelings with you, but it’s also essential to communicate closely with teachers and coaches. They are there to help your child succeed as well. Any information you can provide will help them in their efforts as well.
Talking to your child about their feelings is a great way to bridge the gap and help them cope. If you felt similar when you were younger or even in your adult life, sharing your experiences can also help. The most important thing is to lend an understanding ear. Sometimes, having someone willing to listen is enough to boost your child confidence.
Who may write off a social anxiety disorder as simply shyness, but it can be debilitating for children? Learning to identify the signs of this mental illness can assist you in deciding when your child needs help. In addition, the early you intervene and help your child seek professional help, the more likely they will overcome their social anxiety and feel more confident as they move forward in their lives.