It is really hard as a parent to know exactly what is going on with your child.
You know when something is a little “off,” but you can’t always tell what the problem is. Furthermore, it’s hard to know when something is just a phase that they’ll outgrow.
You may sense that your child is a little bit anxious around others. However, you know that some people are naturally shy.
How can you tell when it goes beyond regular shyness and becomes social anxiety?
Many children fail to get diagnosed early on with social anxiety because it is first mistaken for shyness. Being shy is a personality trait. In contrast, social anxiety is a condition that limits a child’s life.
Often, shyness may not typically cause a person stress. You may be shy, but you may not feel bad about being shy. In contrast, someone with social anxiety may beat themselves up about their inability to act more social among peers.
Furthermore, a socially anxious child doesn’t always appear to be shy. Some socially anxious children will appear to be outgoing, but they experience significant worry about how they are coming across. The stress of social situations is so great that they begin avoiding them whenever possible. That’s a sign of social anxiety.
The takeaway is that excessive shyness may mean that your child has social anxiety. However, you need to look for additional clues. In particular, consider how much this impacts their ability to function in daily life.
If your child has anxiety, then they may be impaired in certain activities. For example, they may be unable to greet new people. They may speak very quietly to new people or refuse to speak at all.
Furthermore, a child with social anxiety may:
School-aged children begin to show additional signs of social anxiety. One warning sign is that your child’s teacher describes a withdrawn child that is very different from the one that you know at home.
Other symptoms of social anxiety that show up in school include:
Many of the symptoms above are behavioral symptoms. After all, kids express themselves better through action than words, especially when they are young.
Here are some additional behaviors that indicate your child has social anxiety:
Of course, some children will talk about their feelings. Common thoughts and fears that a child with social anxiety may have include:
Of course, some of these things are a normal part of growing up.
Many kids experience fear of giving a presentation in class, for example. Nevertheless, most kids are able to get up and do it, and they forget about it shortly thereafter.
When a child has social anxiety, they obsess and stress about it. They may be unable to do it, even if it costs them a grade in the class.
If your child has social anxiety, therapy can help. Learn more about my approach to child counseling here.