Dr James Schaller
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Child and Adolescent Social Anxiety

Social Phobia: Part 2

Children who have social anxiety are often poorly helped. They are called "shy" and sensitive or simply "nice." They are nice because they do not want to get into trouble and be the center of attention.

Children are also very poor at communicating their feelings. Like math, emotional vocabulary has to be taught and it takes years to develop. So do not expect your child to volunteer their feelings and worries.

Also, children do not know they have social phobia. Their cartoons do not discuss it. And it is not the topic of child lunch conversations. A child just knows they would rather die than go to the board in math class. Or they hate to go to a party with many "strange" unknown children.

Since a child is a child, you will have to get them help -- they will not be able to verbalize or take themselves to get evaluated. It is exciting to see a child get help early, and not suffer for decades like many do.

If you think a child needs an evaluation by a child specialist, like a child psychiatrist or child psychologist, do not expect your child to be excited. The evaluator is a stranger. Promise a reward. Let them know there will be no needles and that the evaluator is "nice." I generally suggest a session with one or both parents first, so the parent can decide if the evaluator is good. And the parent can give full background on the problem.

Often social anxiety gets worse over time. Bad experiences that cause anxiety are reflected on, and the child starts anticipating the fear and discomfort earlier and more deeply. What was uncomfortable becomes scary, and what was scary becomes very terrifying. It is possible for children to experience good corrective events and slowly have decreases in social fear, but never count on it!

Some children with social phobia can be overly dependent on their parents. In my experience often their mother. They get nervous and want to spend more time with their mother and seem almost "addicted" or fused to you.

My general rule of thumb is that the sooner you try to stop the car rolling down a hill, the easier it will be to bring it to a stop. Treat early, not later.

Social anxiety is both genetic and learned. If you are a parent, 1/2 the child's body comes from you. Also, your fears can keep theirs alive. Therefore, if you have an anxiety problem, do not wait until your fearful child is "cured" before fixing you own problem. Your own anxiety will help keep them anxious.


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