Helping Kids with Social Anxiety
Q: My 7-year-old son struggles with social anxiety disorder. He has always been a loner and he has never had any close friends in his class. At recess, he generally does his own thing and plays alone, yet he seems pretty happy. He is well-liked by his peers, and he uses his sense of humor to make others laugh. Should I be worried that he doesn’t have a best friend in his class?
A: Before becoming overly concerned that you son doesn’t have a best friend in class, I would recommend looking at the larger perspective for your child. Not every child is fortunate enough to find a close friend in the classroom. To look at the bigger picture, consider the different settings in which your child interacts with other children around his age.
What are his interactions like with his peers outside of school? In his neighborhood? With children of family friends or other community activities that he or the family is involved in?
I would also talk to your son’s teacher and any others who may see your child interacting with his peers. How would they describe his interactions? What strengths do they see? Do they have any concerns?
Next, I would talk to and listen to your son. Explore with him his likes, dislikes and thoughts about his peers. Does he identify any friends or other children he would like to explore a friendship with? If so, look at ways to support these positive interactions. Does he express any concerns or worries? If so, you can reflect and validate how he feels, then support him as he explores ways to respond and work toward resolving the concern.
To empower your son with the confidence to handle these concerns, make sure you don’t try to solve it for him, but find ways to support him.
As a parent you can look at ways that may support the positive social interactions your child is having and encourage opportunities for positive interactions. To encourage these opportunities, look at your child’s strengths and build upon these. Perhaps your child may interact more if he was in a one-on-one situation, where he is not competing with his peers socially.
What does your child do very well? Are there social interactions that can be based around your child’s strengths? Look at these strengths and match his social interaction opportunities to these, but remember to keep activities to a minimum as to not overwhelm your child.
From your description of your son, there are strengths that already stand out to me and seem very encouraging. First of all, despite your concerns, you stated your child “seems pretty happy.”
Secondly, you described your son as well-liked by his peers, which may indicate that he is having successful social interactions with his peers. Thirdly, you mentioned that he uses his sense of humor to make others laugh. These are all great strengths not to be minimized.
However, be sure not to ignore warning signs. These may include excessive and persistent anxiety or any significant changes in your child’s behaviors or moods, including sleep, appetite, physical complaints, interactions with family, and change in school performance. If you are seeing your child experience fear in social situations, does exposure to the situation consistently provoke anxiety? Is this leading to avoidance? Is the avoidance affecting his normal routine (avoiding school, lower grades, excessive fear with changes in routine, etc.). If you are noticing some warning signs, talk to your child’s pediatrician and seek help from a licensed mental-health professional to further evaluate your child’s needs. If your child has been formerly diagnosed with social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder), working with a licensed mental-health professional can help your child build coping skills to deal with the anxiety that may occur in social situations. Some children with social phobia also benefit from medications as part of their treatment. Talk with a pediatrician or psychiatrist regarding this option.
Leanne Yates, MS, Ed.S, NCC, LPC, is a children, adolescent and adult counselor at Moses Cone Behavioral Health Outpatient Department in Greensboro. Please submit your questions to “Is My Kid OK?” by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.