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 be to overcome their issues and live a more productive life. One of the most overlooked mental illnesses among children is social anxiety disorder.
Understanding the symptoms and how it can be treated will help you get your child the help he or she needs to feel more confident. Social anxiety can have a severely negative impact on a person’s life so treatment is essential to for a healthy, happy lifestyle.
What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Learning about social anxiety disorder can help guide you through the process of getting help for your child. While some people think a child is simply shy, social anxiety leads an excessive level of discomfort in common 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 normal 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, it’s important for parents 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 social anxiety disorder, they often feel hesitant to join in activities, such as sports, music and other common extra-curricular activities. They may fear speaking up in class, making for uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, many people push these feelings aside as typical feelings of shyness or even normal awkwardness that can occur among adolescents. This can lead to a lack of treatment, which can have serious long-term 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 center 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 what should be obvious signs 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. The bottom line is that it’s important for parents 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 the condition your child may be suffering from. For instance, a therapist can determine if the symptoms the child exhibits 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 they are children or adults. First and foremost, you ought to reach out to a professional. Making an appointment with a therapist provides your child with someone he or she can trust to talk about their feelings and learn potential coping strategies. Therapists can use a number of techniques to hep a child handle their feelings in a more productive way. Play therapy may be used with younger patients, while 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
- Role playing
- Learning coping strategies
If therapy by itself isn’t working to resolve the symptoms, social anxiety disorder medication may be prescribed by a licensed psychologist. Many parents hesitate to use medication as a method of managing 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 outcome of the medication. 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 an SSRI. For those who many need some additional help, a sedative like Valium may be prescribed. This is not typically used unless absolutely 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 disorder, a therapist or psychologist will also be on the look out 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 makes a visit to the pediatrician an important step in the process.
What Can You Do?
One of the biggest concerns parents have is what they can do to help their child overcome social anxiety disorder. This mental illness often leaves parents wondering what they have done wrong or feeling helpless when their child is struggling with something with something they can’t see or touch. However, one of the best things parents can do is be there for their child and support them through words and actions. However, there are certain steps you can take to help your child feel more comfortable and confident in their daily lives.
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 him or her learn how to properly deal with their feelings and overcome their social anxiety disorder.
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.
It’s a lot of work to overcome the symptoms of social anxiety. Therefore, it’s important to take notice of 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.
Transitions can be extremely difficult 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, he or she is more likely to feel comfortable in the situation.
Communicate with Teachers and Coaches
It’s important 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 his or her 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 who is willing to listen is enough to give your child a confidence boost.
Social anxiety disorder may be written off as simply shyness, but for children, it can be a debilitating condition. Learning to identify the signs of this mental illness can assist you in deciding when your child needs help. The early you intervene and help your child seek professional help, the more likely they will be to overcome their social anxiety and feel more confident as they move forward in their lives.