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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ashley Jacobson

Understanding the Signs of Social Anxiety in Kids: What to Look For

social anxiety in kids

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is a disorder that is characterized by a marked fear or anxiety in about one or more social situations in which someone might be subject to possible scrutiny by others. For example, a kid might become anxious in social interactions, being observed by others, or performing in front of others. When children are triggered by social situations that induces fear or anxiety, this may manifest by them having increased tantrums, clinging, crying, freezing up, or failure to speak. Social anxiety in kids can often look like avoiding social situations or if they endure these situations it is met with intense feelings of fear and anxiety.

signs of social anxiety in kids

When social anxiety is mild, the symptoms only appear in specific situations, such as public speaking. When it becomes more extreme, any form of social interaction can act as a trigger for anxiety. Everyone’s experiences with social anxiety is unique as we all have different thoughts, feelings and reactions to the things that make us anxious. When your child is experiencing social anxiety, they may have worries about embarrassing themselves, being rejected, not knowing what to talk about, physical appearance, being noticed, or being disliked. There are many different social situations in which children might feel anxious. Some of these include:

  • Giving a speech

  • Going to the store

  • Meeting someone new

  • Spending time alone with a friend

  • Making eye contact

  • Talking to adults or other authority figures

  • Being the center of attention

  • Being in a crowded space

  • Talking on the phone

When a child is feeling anxious in social situations, they may try to engage in safety behaviors or do things in a “safe” way that protects them from their fears, rather than living how they truly want to. When children do this, this is a method of avoidance, which can make anxiety worse overtime. If your child is engaging in avoidance, they are most likely utilizing a safety behavior. Safety behaviors are subtle actions that are used to avoid anxiety in social situations. For example, if someone is anxious about socializing at a party, they might focus on their phone to discourage others from approaching and talking to them. While safety behaviors can provide some immediate relief, they can contribute to worsening anxiety symptoms in the long run. Some safety behaviors to be aware of include:

  • Avoiding eye contact

  • Speaking very little and softly

  • Holding arms stiffly at side to prevent trembling

  • Avoiding sharing personal information

  • Constantly checking appearance in the mirror

  • Avoid asking questions

  • Using drugs/alcohol

  • Standing far from others to avoid conversation

  • Talking excessively to avoid silence

  • Caving into peer pressure

  • Lie or exaggerate to look better

  • Avoiding eating in front of others

  • Excessively rehearse what to say before socializing

  • Using distractions to appear busy (e.g., phone, tv)

  • Continually seeking reassurance or approval

Ways to Offer Support

Parents, to best support your child that is struggling with social anxiety, it is helpful to try and understand their anxious feelings. One way that you can do this is by thinking about the signs that your child displays that might indicate they are anxious and knowing the situations that trigger their anxiety. You may want to start keeping a record of these signs and situations and notice any patterns. Additionally, becoming aware of any safety behaviors they engage in to avoid social situations will be helpful in understanding their anxiety. Once you are able to have a better understanding of their warning signs and triggers, you can help your child learn to identify those signs as well so that they can using coping strategies before they become dysregulated to better manage social anxiety symptoms. Oftentimes, we will need to help our children co-regulate (e.g. modeling deep breathing or positive self-talk) in order for them to be able to learn how to independently regulate themselves.

Another approach to helping your child face their anxiety is the stepladder approach This approach is gentle technique that can help your child face little things that make them anxious and ultimately face things that might seem more scary, just like taking one step at a time up a ladder. For example, if your child has a hard time talking to new people, they could start by saying ‘hello’ to a friend that they have met a few times and work on building up saying ‘hello’ to a person they just met. Eventually the goal would be to have your child be able to have full conversations with other children at school.

When To Seek Additional Support

If your child is experiencing anxiety in social situations and you are concerned that it is causing significant distress on other aspects of their life such as school performance, social relationships, or self-confidence, your child may benefit from therapy. Therapy can provide your child with coping skills to regulate their anxious emotions and provide support and encouragement for facing their anxiety head on, as well as help you with some parent tips and tools. Therapy for social anxiety can also provide your child with a safe space to explore the situations that are making them anxious.

At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialized in assisting children and their families with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation.


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