February 15, 2011

Does My Child Have Social Anxiety?

I recently had a parent express the following concern:

We have a 4 year old who is very shy. It often shows up when she experiences a new situation. She recently started preschool and although the teacher says she is making great progress she is not social like the other children. She has been participating in gymnastics for two years and is just now at the point where she will participate and talk with the instructor.

I am wondering if she has social anxiety? What can we do to help her. Does she need to be introduced to new situations and activities?

This is my response:

Being shy could be a part of her temperament. She could also be more introverted than extroverted. If most of your family members are extroverted and she's introverted it's perfectly natural for you to want her to be like the rest of you. Some children are more cautious in new situations. Try not to compare her to other children her age as each child develops at their own pace.

As a four year old, she is still developmentally learning how to navigate social relationships. It sounds like she is already active in social settings and that specifically at school her teacher sees she is making progress. That's a good thing and it's a gradual thing so applaud the small steps she is making. Tell her you're proud of her. Build on her strengths. Between school and gymnastics I think she's involved in ample opportunities for developing social skills. If you involve her in too many activities she may become overwhelmed and have even more difficulty socially.

Pay attention to how you and other family members refer to her shyness. Do you use that word to describe her? It's possible she takes on some of the attributes of shyness because that's what she hears from the significant adults in her life.

Social anxiety disorder includes an inability to participate in social settings, worrying about fitting it, panic attacks, etc. It's difficult to diagnosis such a disorder in a preschooler as we cannot discount the fact that some of their shyness and or anxiety can be related to the fact that their social skills are still evolving.

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