Social Anxiety: See it, know it, and don’t be afraid of it

ANXIOUS GIRLIf you have weathered birthday parties where your child hides under the table, family dinners where your child won’t say hello to guests or fitful transitions at school, you may be familiar with social anxiety.

Social Anxiety is a persistent fear of one or more social situations in which the child experiences anxiety and withdraws from social activities. Social anxiety is not just shyness, which up to 15% of children experience. Social anxiety is much more intense.

Children with social anxiety are uncomfortable exploring new things. Rather than becoming excited by new things, they are more likely to be scared and withdrawn.

Here are three steps to helping your anxious child.

1. Help your anxious child by previewing what is expected in a new situation. "We'll be going to Sam's house." "His mum and dad and brothers will be there." "We'll have a bar-b-q and play with toys." Help your child prepare for the experience by discussing who will be there, what you all will be doing, whether or not you will be at the event and what will happen when the event is completed.

2. Role-play the words and actions your child can use in a new situation. Practice with your child how to enter into the situation, give him or her the words to feel powerful and strong. "When you get to the dance class, you will go in with Miss Clara and Mummy will watch through the window." "I will stay there the entire time." "You'll be able to see me."

3. Ask your child what the or she imagines will happen. Discuss what they will see, what activities may take place and allay any worries or concerns they might have. Sometimes exploration can help them feel they can manage the new situation better. Draw it out, if you wish. Have your child tell you a story as you draw the pictures of what they describe.

Sometimes reading books can help a child with the words and actions to calm their concerns. Helpful books : When my worries get to big by Kari Dunn Buron, BRAVE: A story about social anxiety by Marjie Braun Knudsen and Jenne R. Henderson Ph.D. and What to do when you worry too much by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews.

If your child is persistently afraid and you have tried resolving this on your own, talk with your pediatrician about referrals to a developmental pediatrician or therapist. Anxiety tends to run in families and cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation skills, meditation, yoga, better nutrition and supplements may help.