It’s no secret that the world has become more stressful. More noise, more work, more pressure—just more. Our children are feeling all of this as well, resulting in more anxious-like behaviors. But not all worry rises to the level of an anxiety disorder. The list of “look-for” behaviors below can help you distinguish between the all-too-common “worry” versus a social anxiety disorder. (NOTE: It’s essential to solicit the help of trained mental health providers if you are worried about an anxiety disorder):
Common symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder1:
Expressed fear of being called on in school or other performance-related activities
Expressed fear of being watched and/or judged during performance-related tasks
Expressions of nausea, headaches, and panic-attack reactions in response to performance demands
Attendance problems at school (school avoidance)
Avoidance behaviors, including avoidance of social situation, parties, and performance opportunities
Ask yourself these questions if you see some of the behaviors listed above2:
Do these symptoms prevent my child from socially engaging at school and/or extra-curricular activities?
Have attempts to move past the worry proven ineffective?
Is my child now missing out on social opportunities related to expressions of fear and anxiety?
If your child demonstrates many of the behaviors listed and you answer “yes” to several of the questions, there is a good chance your child is headed for an anxiety disorder. To help support your child in learning to balance their anxieties, try the tips listed below:
Create a safe and nurturing environment for your child, both at home and at school: Feeling safe and secure is critical for children with anxiety. The more predictable the environment and adult responses, the better. That said, don’t forget to teach children how to handle sudden change!
Work with the teaching staff to create “safe zones” for the child at school: Just as safety is vital in the home setting, it is also essential at school. Safe zones a child can use to get a break from the usual school chaos, especially at lunch, will help your child feel better about the school environment as a whole.
Provide “break cards” to assist with breaks from the stress and pressure in the classroom: Teaching children how to take a break when needed goes a long way to build confidence. It allows them to be in control of their needs. This empowerment can help when social anxiety peaks.
Teach relaxation techniques and when to use them: Calming strategies are vital to the management of anxiety. Equally important is learning to redefine the stress into something positive. Both strategies build confidence in the management of social anxiety.
Work with your child to correct any faulty thinking patterns: We all tell ourselves various stories about our world. When a child is manifesting anxiety, these stories often feed the stress and make things more extreme. Learning to differentiate stories and them is vital to improving outcomes.
If your child is resistant to these strategies, it’s time to enlist the help of mental health professionals. Social anxiety disorder doesn’t have to dominate a child’s life. With support and hard work, your child can learn to manage their anxious behaviors.
For more tips and information about Social Anxiety disorder, check out Raising the Shy Child: A Parent's Guide to Social Anxiety Disorder.