Socially Anxious Kids

Children feel anxiety too; for some, anxiety in social and performance situations can be so intense the child is unable to function well, if at all.  It can result in lower academic performance, negative self-confidence and unsatisfactory social relationships. Children may avoid engaging in sports or other extra-curricular activities for fear of being embarrassed in front of their peers.

Newest research shows that 40 million Americans are currently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder of some kind and not all of these are adults.  Right behind specific phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD for short) is the most common anxiety disorder with onset typically beginning in youth.  Statistics estimate 7 – 9.1% of our population suffer from SAD.

What Social Anxiety Is Not

Social Anxiety Disorder is not extreme shyness, though many teens and adults diagnosed with SAD report experiencing extreme shyness as kids; but, this correlation does not infer causation.  Shyness does not necessarily produce SAD, but it surely can set you up to more likely experience it.

What Causes SAD

SAD is characterized by the emotion of fear of social judgment which manifests itself from feelings of embarrassment, criticism, rejection and scrutiny.  SAD is also characterized by the belief that “I do not have what it takes to deal with what life requires of me.” Social anxiety is both intense fear and an overly critical self-appraisal which cripples a person from living happily, at peace while building relationships and meeting goals.

Does my child or myself have SAD?

If you answer yes to the following questions and can have said yes for over 6 months, you or your child may be suffering from SAD.

  • Do you experience extreme, persistent fear of others judging you?
  • Are you painfully self-conscious?
  • Do you avoid social situations where you meet new people?
  • Even though you have positive outcomes in your social interactions, do you still find yourself criticizing yourself and discounting the positive feedback you get to the contrary to your own negative self-evaluations?
  • Do you consistently try and avoid most of the following because of how bad it makes you feel?
    • Beginning or ending conversations
    • Walking in a room where you know no one
    • Asking or answering questions with others watching
    • Asking for help
    • Asserting your “no”
    • Talking about yourself

Social Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed with the fear of being judged or rejected in  a social or performance situation, to the point where the intense anxiety significantly impedes everyday life functioning and inhibits us reaching our life goals.  It is painful and it is real and there is help.

How Can I Help My Child

First, listen carefully to how your child is feeling.  It is important that you listen without judgment or comments, but with acceptance and compassion.  Show mercy. Be gracious. (Colossians 3:12)

Second, pay attention to the judgmental and overly critical comments that the child says to themselves.  What is the dialogue going on in their head? What negative statements is the child saying again and again to themselves?  Does the child recognize their negative self-speech? Self-awareness is the first step toward coping with anxiety. (Proverbs 4:23)

Third, accept what the child is saying without trying to change the meaning.  Accepting their reality is more important than understanding why the reality is there. (Romans 15:7)

Four, help the child focus on what feedback they are receiving from others – real evidence (often the positive results of social interactions) vs false evidence (the negative self-critic that they anticipate, but doesn’t occur). Reinforce the positive experiences they have with others. (1 Thes. 5:11)

Five, when the child doesn’t know what to do, ask for their ideas versus giving them answers.  We don’t want to reinforce their belief that they aren’t capable of dealing with life. Instead, help them realize their ability to come up with ideas of how to solve their problems by asking questions and processing with them vs. producing answers. Go for talking with and not talking “at.” (Ephesians 4:2)

Six, encourage curiosity.  Encourage the child to consider others’ lives and who they are. Redirect the focus off of self-criticism to engaging in curiosity of others.  (Phil. 2:3)

Dear Reader, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a real, painful and often debilitating fear that interferes with life.  It is not the abundant life Christ would desire to give to those who follow Him. However, as with any pain, SAD also gives us the amazing opportunity to be compassionate, patient, thoughtful people who love unconditionally and offer timely wisdom.  What a pleasure especially when the people we most lend a helping hand to are our children. I pray the suggestions offer hope and help where help is needed.

Blessings and peace, fondly yours, Elizabeth.

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