Does your child cling to you, shrink back, freeze, not talk, or tantrum when confronting social situations?
Are you concerned that your child is too preoccupied with how other people see him or her?
Do you wish that your child could just relax and be his/herself around others?
Does it bother you that the main comment that you hear from teachers is, "Your child is so quiet."
Is your child's social fear preventing him or her from enjoying activities that most other children enjoy, such as going to camp or birthday parties?
Are you worried that this is not just a little shyness or a temporary phase your child is going through?
If you answered yes to one or more of the questions above, your child may be suffering from social anxiety.
You might also be interested in exploring the extreme shyness and selective mutism pages of the site to better understand what your child may be experiencing. Click on either picture to go to the corresponding page.
Is my child just shy or does she have social anxiety--how do I know the difference?
Shyness can be thought of as a spectrum or a continuum. This continuum could be pictured as a line with slight shyness falling to the far left and social anxiety falling to the far right. And between these two points would be all the other gradients of shyness.
The vignettes below will contrast the difference between a healthy degree of shyness versus social anxiety, as we follow two children's reactions to the same scenario.
The Birthday Party
Linda is on her way to a birthday party. In the car, she clutches on to her gift, hoping that the birthday girl will like it. Being very sensitive to the tastes of others, she picked it out with exquisite care.
As the car pulls into the birthday girl's driveway, Linda feels butterflies in her stomach. She worries that she might not know anyone apart from the birthday girl since they don't go to the same school. When she enters the house, Linda hands the birthday girl her gift and says "Happy Birthday."
Linda looks around and starts to feel more butterflies in her stomach--because it ends up that she doesn't know any of the other kids at the party. Linda is very quiet at first, observing the room and all the kids in it. Little by little, the butterflies begin to subside.
Linda looks up and notices a friendly face smiling at her. When she smiles back, the girl approaches her and asks Linda if she would like to be her partner in the treasure hunt party game. Linda nods yes and the smiling girl takes Linda's hand.
By the end of the game, the two girls are giggling and Linda has made a new friend. When Linda gets back in the car, she tells her mom all about this new friend--and that she thinks that her gift was a winner.
Melinda is on her way to a birthday party. In the car, she clutches on to her gift. Being very sensitive to the tastes of others, she picked it out with exquisite care, but she still worries that the girl won't think that it's good enough.
As the car pulls into the birthday girl's driveway, Melinda feels a gnawing pain in her stomach and tells her mom that she doesn't want to go anymore. When her mom asks why, Melinda answers that she changed her mind. When pressed further, Melinda reluctantly admits that she doesn't want to go because she's probably not going to know any of the other kids--since she doesn't go to the same school as the birthday girl. Melinda silently thinks, "None of the kids are going to want to talk or play with me...and my friend is going to be too busy with the others to even notice me."
Mom insists that Melinda go to the party because they said that they would and because they're already there.
When Melinda enters the party, she feels everyone is staring at her. She quickly gives her gift to the birthday girl and just as quickly disappears to a corner of the room. She feels frozen and doesn't dare look at anyone.
When another girl smiles at her, Melinda quickly looks away. When the treasure game starts, Melinda doesn't have a partner. The birthday girl's mom notices and pairs her with two other girls. Melinda mechanically follows the girls--mumbling a word or two.
When Melinda gets back in the car to go home, she feels a tinge of sadness, mixed with a huge wave of relief that the whole ordeal is over. She then tells her mom that she doesn't want to go to any other birthday parties.
Linda exhibited a healthy shyness. She felt nervous and unsure of herself when approaching a new social situation. But, she was able to gradually warm up and enjoy herself. Melinda, on the other hand, was overcome with self-doubt and social fear that just wouldn't ease up. She could really benefit from some support! Is your child more like Linda or Melinda?
The Content Doesn't Matter
Above, I have provided information about what is known as Social Anxiety. But, the type of anxiety that your child experiences is not what we will focus on in treatment.
That's because anxiety operates the same way regardless of its diagnostic category. These categories merely describe the type of things a particular person tends to worry about.
And focusing on the content of your child's worry is not helpful.
What is helpful is to focus on how worry itself works and to teach your child a new way to respond to it. Your family and child will learn all about this concept in treatment.
Does that mean that we're not going to work with your child around his or her social challenges? Of course not! But, we will do it in a way that can be generalized to any other worries that your child may have now or down the road.
The great news is that once children understand how worry works, they will be equipped to manage worry, as its content shifts and changes as they grow.
Helping Anxious Kids is here to support your family. If you are seeking anxiety treatment for your child and my approach resonates with you, schedule an appointment today.