Social phobia is also known as social anxiety disorder or SAD (not to be confused with seasonal affective disorder which can also be known by the acronym SAD). This disorder is diagnosed when your child has a persistent fear of social situations, performing, and talking in front of others, especially if she will be around unfamiliar people. Your child may be terrified of being criticized, judged harshly, or embarrassed. Social phobia affects one in every twenty-five children, and it seems girls are diagnosed about twice as often as boys. Conversely, clinical samples are either equal on gender or show more males with the diagnosis. Children, especially adolescents, can be preoccupied with how they compare to their friends, so being a little self-conscious is normal. SAD is diagnosed when the symptoms are extreme. Parents can also exacerbate social anxiety disorder if they are fearful, withdrawn, or shy, or if they unintentionally reward their child's fearful behavior.
To be diagnosed with social phobia, a child's symptoms must last at least six months, which distinguishes it from the short-term social discomfort that many children briefly experience in new situations. There is no one sign that indicates that a child has social anxiety. However if your child experiences several of the following, SAD may be part of the picture:
Fearing scrutiny by other people in social situations
Avoiding situations that trigger the fear
Crying, throwing tantrums, clinging, and freezing in specific social situations
Complaining of sickness to avoid going to school
Feeling unwilling or unable to participate in school activities such as sharing with the class, group projects, reading in front of the class, or raising hand
Isolating at the playground, feeling outside of the group and not joining in, having no friends or one or two friends
Approximately four out of every ten, or 43 percent, of children with social anxiety refuse to attend school because of their anxiety. If your child is refusing to go to school or goes and then spends most days in the nurse's office, it is time to seek help from a psychologist and possibly a psychiatrist.
When your child is faced with something she fears, she may have physical symptoms like blushing and sweating, dizziness, heart palpitations, tense muscles, dry mouth, trembling, and nausea. These symptoms magnify anxiety, and may even produce it over time.
If your child has social phobia, he may have trouble speaking up in class, making or keeping friends, taking tests or keeping up with schoolwork, possibly fail exams, not feel able to turn in homework, and feel isolated. You also might notice he is afraid that others will see his anxiety and think he is weak or immature. Your child might fear that he will faint, lose control of bowel or bladder functioning, or not be able to concentrate. Looking ahead, according to the World Psychiatric Association, social anxiety sufferers are more likely to be single, attain lower education, contemplate or commit suicide, be on social security payments or on a disability pension, have other psychiatric disorders, abuse drugs or alcohol, and have an erratic work history.
As you can see, treating social anxiety in children is imperative. Researchers Beidel and Turner developed an approach for “shy” kids called Social Effectiveness Training. Instead of exploring underlying childhood issues for their shyness or putting the children on medication to see if their symptoms went away, they helped children develop the skills necessary to handle social situations competently. After twelve weeks, the study found two-thirds of the kids were no longer shy or frightened socially. At six months, the effectiveness of skill training increased to 75 percent.