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How Can I Help My Child With Social Anxiety

Can Social Anxiety Cause A Panic Attack

How can I help my child with anxiety? – Ms. Anupama Maruvada

For some children and teens, the fear and anxiety created by social interactions can be so overwhelming that they can have a panic attack. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. For those with Social Anxiety Disorder, the irrational fear of saying or doing something wrong can throw one into a panic attack, which can be very frightening and further cause one to avoid social interactions.

Tip : Face Your Fears

One of the most helpful things you can do to overcome social anxiety is to face the social situations you fear rather than avoid them. Avoidance keeps social anxiety disorder going. While avoiding nerve-wracking situations may help you feel better in the short term, it prevents you from becoming more comfortable in social situations and learning how to cope in the long term. In fact, the more you avoid a feared social situation, the more frightening it becomes.

Avoidance can also prevent you from doing things youd like to do or reaching certain goals. For example, a fear of speaking up may prevent you from sharing your ideas at work, standing out in the classroom, or making new friends.

While it may seem impossible to overcome a feared social situation, you can do it by taking it one small step at a time. The key is to start with a situation that you can handle and gradually work your way up to more challenging situations, building your confidence and coping skills as you move up the anxiety ladder.

For example, if socializing with strangers makes you anxious, you might start by accompanying an outgoing friend to a party. Once youre comfortable with that step, you might try introducing yourself to one new person, and so on. To work your way up a social anxiety ladder:

Dont try to face your biggest fear right away. Its never a good idea to move too fast, take on too much, or force things. This may backfire and reinforce your anxiety.

Focus On Progress Not Perfection

Social anxiety is heavily linked to perfectionism. Fear of failure, fear of looking bad in front of friends, or fear of not meeting a goal all contribute heavily to a childs anxious feelings surrounding a situation.

Help your child to focus on the process instead of the goal. Engage them with talking about how fun it is to play sports, and how much you love to hear them practicing the flute.

This is an excellent time to reinforce learning about the growth mindset, and how mistakes are a part of the process. Show them your own mistakes, and how much more youve learned from your mistakes than from achieving the goal.

Remind them of the power of yet. Youre not an expert YET, and your child isnt an expert fiddler YET. You can use our “Power of YET” printable worksheet for children available here.

“Practice IS the goal” is a mantra you can use in your home. Finding comfort in the practice, and taking joy in the journey are cliches that have actual value – reminding us to ENJOY the process instead of focusing on the goal.

By doing this, you stretch out your happiness, because it isnt just limited to the few minutes of excitement when you reach a goal. Instead, youre enthusiastic about the entire process because you see your progress and delight in the doing.

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Anxiety Is A Fear Of The Future And All Its Unpredictability

“The main thing to know about anxiety is that it involves some level of perception about danger,” says Pine, and it thrives on unpredictability. The mind of an anxious child is often on the lookout for some future threat, locked in a state of exhausting vigilance.

We all have some of this hard-wired worry, because we need it. Pine says it’s one of the reasons we humans have managed to survive as long as we have. “Young children are naturally afraid of strangers. That’s an adaptive thing. They’re afraid of separation.”

Full-blown anxiety happens when these common fears get amplified as if someone turned up the volume and they last longer than they’re supposed to. Pine says separation anxiety is quite common at age 3, 4 or 5, but it can be a sign of anxiety if it strikes at age 8 or 9. According to research, 11 is the median age for the onset of all anxiety disorders.

A bundle of factors contributes to a child’s likelihood of developing anxiety. Roughly a third to half of the risk is genetic. But environmental factors also play a big part. Exposure to stress, including discord at home, poverty and neighborhood violence, can all lead to anxiety. Research has shown that women are much more likely than men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder over their lifetime and that anxiety, as common as it is, appears to be vastly underdiagnosed and undertreated.

What Should I Tell My Healthcare Provider About My Child’s Anxiety

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Your child’s healthcare provider will ask when symptoms began and what triggers them. The provider will ask if anxiety affects your child’s daily activities. Tell your provider about your child’s medical history and if he or she has family members with a similar condition. Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your older child’s past and present nicotine or drug use.

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Normal Anxiety Or Anxiety Disorder How To Tell The Difference

Every person, child, and adult, is going to feel anxious at some point, says Eli R. Lebowitz, PhD, director of the Program for Anxiety Disorders at the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine. Anxiety is a normal emotion that has a dual purpose. It prevents us from doing something dangerous and can motivate us as well, says , director of Alvord, Baker & Associates, a psychotherapy practice that specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents and adults with anxiety and other disorders. For example, anxiety might motivate a child to practice the piano for his recital or be the encouragement a child needs to do their homework so they can be prepared for class.

What differentiates normal from problematic anxiety is the degree to which the anxiety interferes with functioning that you would expect for a child of or developmental stage, says Alvord. Children with anxiety disorders inevitably begin to avoid situations, things, people, and places that make them anxious, says Alvord. Avoidance is the hallmark of anxiety disorders.

What Is Normal What Is Not

It is normal for children to display some anxiety as they grow. This often first shows up as fear of strangers around the age of six months.

This fear can develop into separation anxiety between 12 and 18 months the young child will become upset if separated from a parent at this age.

There are also natural differences between children in terms of how open they are to new experiences.

  • “Easy” children are generally adaptable to new situations and people and tend to remain calm and happy.
  • “Slow to warm up” children take a little longer to get used to new situations and tend to withdraw at first.
  • “Difficult” children are easily upset by new people and situations, have strong emotional reactions and poor ability to adapt.

Beyond normal childhood fears and natural differences in temperament, some children experience intense and paralyzing fear of new people and places.

If your child has severe social anxiety, she will experience distress when in those situations and will try to avoid the situations that cause her fear.

Some examples of common childhood fears include:

  • meeting strangers
  • a negative attitude toward preschool
  • onlooking behavior

Also, pay attention to the stories that your child concocts during imaginative play. Often many of your child’s fears will seep into the activities and actions of his imaginary playmates.

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Professional Help For Social Anxiety In Children

If youre worried about your childs anxiety and feel that its affecting their enjoyment of life, consider seeking professional help. Here are some places to start:

  • your childs teacher at preschool or school, or a school counsellor
  • your childs GP or paediatrician, who can refer you to an appropriate mental health practitioner
  • your local childrens health or community health centre
  • a specialist anxiety clinic

Role Play And Practice Situations That Your Child Struggles With At School

Recognizing and Treating Problematic Fear & Anxiety in Children | John Piacentini, PhD | UCLAMDChat

Certain situations or tasks may lead your child to feel overwhelmed by anxiety at school. Keep in mind that being unsure of oneself or remembering a bad experience is the cause of the situational anxiety. Rehearsing or practicing how to respond and behave during these situations may help your child feel less anxious.

For example, if your child struggles when they meet new classmates, you can pretend to be a new classmate and role model how to introduce yourself and ask a few good conversation starting questions. With a teen, you could just talk about what meeting new peers may be like, and suggest different questions to ask and ways to respond when meeting someone.

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Take These Steps To Cope With Social Anxiety And A New School

Here are some steps you can take to cope with the double whammy of social anxiety AND starting a new school.

What is social anxiety

Social anxiety is more than just being shy although coping with a new environment can also be a pretty daunting task for a shy person.

Social anxiety means that you are afraid of many social situations, often a long time in advance, and that you think about negative experiences in social situations for a long time afterward. Social anxiety has a lot to do with a deep fear of being judged and excluded or even humiliated and persecuted.

Children can feel the full extent of social anxiety. Although you do your best to protect them, kids sometimes experience social situations as frightening. They may even have been bullied or been witnesses to bullying without your knowledge.

In a more severe form, social anxiety prevents people from participating in social life. They start to avoid social gatherings and isolate themselves.

Cope with social anxiety parent first!

If you want to help your child cope with social anxiety, take a good look at yourself first. Your child will pick up cues from you. You may not even be fully aware of the messages you are sending.

Do you have a history of social anxiety? What are your memories of starting a new school?What did you do as a child to cope with your social anxiety? What kind of support did you get? Did it work?

Cope with anxious thoughts about your child

Ask your child what they fear

How To Help Your Child With Social Anxiety

If youre cooking and the frying pan catches fire, you take it off the stove. With kids, you want to get them away from the crisis because you want to turn off the fear center. But you need to do this in a limited way so kids dont learn that not doing something is the best way to feel less anxious.

Here are a few tips on how to help kids deal with social anxiety.

Dont let your child hit the ejector button. If your child is feeling very anxious in a social situation, help your child step aside and take a few minutes to think about strategies. But dont agree to go home. Bailing out wont help your child deal with the situation next time. Even agreeing to sit on the sideline and watch is better than leaving.

Think about less anxious ways to get your child on stage. For example, if you know your child gets anxious about speaking in class, ask the teacher to send a question home so your child can rehearse the answer.

For oral reports, ask the teacher if your child can make a video at home or maybe perform a puppet play from behind a curtain.

Develop social anchors. When going to a party or a new karate class, try to carpool so your child can walk in with a friend. For school projects, ask the teacher to pair your child with a friendly peer who can field questions about things like what to bring or wear. Having a buddy can help make events feel less threatening.

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Baby Steps And Praise

For kids who get nervous in social situations, its unrealistic to think that theyll be able to just jump right in. They may benefit from arriving early or late, and will need to adjust at their own pace. Many will want to hang back for a while to observe before actively participating.

I work at giving my daughter time and permission to navigate the experience on her own terms, explains Popek. Ill encourage her to take little steps out of her comfort zone, like starting out watching the other kids, then maybe moving closer, then playing nearby to the kids, then eventually actually playing with them.

Arriving early to scope things out can be another helpful tactic. If we are going to a new group or activity, says Weingarten, it helps to get there fifteen minutes early so we can enjoy the space without the chaos of other kids and settle in slowly.

Dr. Busman suggests also being open with other parents about whats going on. While it might feel awkward, it can be immensely helpful to give them a heads up that you might arrive early or late, for example, not out of rudeness but to help your child acclimate. Most people are really nice, reminds Dr. Busman, and are going to say sure, whatever you need!

What Does An Anxiety Disorder Look Like In Young Children

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Depending on the type of anxiety, there are a range of physical, psychological and behavioral indications. With toddlers and young children, parents may notice increased irritability, excessive crying, tantrums as well as more difficulty self-soothing or self-regulating. Young children may exhibit regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting or excessive clinginess. Children with anxiety disorders may experience stomach and headaches, frequent bathroom urges, rapid breathing, chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, poor appetite, muscle aches and tension and sleeping difficulties. Other indicators are: hypervigilance, frequent reassurance seeking, feeling overwhelmed by new experiences avoiding situations– school, people and places, events, social gatherings– pretty much anything that triggers or fuels their anxiety.

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What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Anxiety

A parent or teacher may see signs that a child or teen is anxious. For example, a kid might cling, miss school, or cry. They might act scared or upset, or refuse to talk or do things. Kids and teens with anxiety also feel symptoms that others can’t see. It can make them feel afraid, worried, or nervous.

It can affect their body too. They might feel shaky, jittery, or short of breath. They may feel “butterflies” in their stomach, a hot face, clammy hands, dry mouth, or a racing heart.

These symptoms of anxiety are the result of the “fight or flight” response. This is the body’s normal response to danger. It triggers the release of natural chemicals in the body. These chemicals prepare us to deal with a real danger. They affect heart rate, breathing, muscles, nerves, and digestion. This response is meant to protect us from danger. But with anxiety disorders, the “fight or flight” response is overactive. It happens even when there is no real danger.

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