All children go through a period when they are uncomfortable with people they don’t know well and with strangers. But social phobia runs deeper and must be addressed from an early age. 

Stranger anxiety, as it is often called, usually appears for the first time between the first and second year, but can disappear around two and a half years of age. Some children continue to show signs of shyness after this age, but when they start school and spend more time with other children, everything is usually settled.

¿Shyness or social phobia?

In some cases, the increase in social interactions does not help the child feel more comfortable. Shyness intensifies and becomes more than a major problem, causing the child a considerable degree of anxiety and interfering with the ability to live in social contexts.

When this happens, we must consider the possibility that it is a  social phobia . Although shyness is often a precursor to social phobia, these are two situations that present important differences.

Shy children often have friends, while children with social phobia often have none, or only one or two.

Shy children may be reluctant to participate in certain social situations, but they rarely avoid them, while children with social phobia constantly avoid them.

Shy children often feel uncomfortable, at least at first, in some social contexts, but do not experience the high level of physiological arousal, such as panic attacks and the typical distress of social phobia or social anxiety .

Finally, shy children generally lead relatively normal lives, while those with social phobia do not. They cannot do many things that children of the same age do.

Generalized social phobia

Social phobia can present itself in two forms, the first being of the generalized type.

The children with social phobia generalized  are extremely anxious in most social situations.

They have great difficulty interacting with children of the same age, but they can also have problems with children and older or younger adults.

These children have difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations with other children, tend to withdraw from contact (often prefer to be close to familiar adults), are very uncomfortable with peer groups, may refuse to participate in group play, and may be eager to speak to authority figures like teachers.

Social phobia doesn’t go away on its own. In fact, it not only continues, but generally worsens with growth, particularly around the time of adolescence and early adulthood.

The adolescents with social phobia are not only limited friendships; they are also extremely uncomfortable in interactions with someone of another gender. They don’t date anyone, they don’t participate in school dances and they don’t go for walks, they feel isolated and out of place, and this, in some cases, can lead to depression .

When it’s time for college, they are often afraid to drop out of school, sometimes preferring a local college, and continuing to live at home.

As young adults, they often have limited career potential because they are shy and anxious about their superiors.

How to help a child with social phobia

If you have a child with a social phobia, he does not necessarily have to face such a limited future. There are many things we can do now to help you overcome this problem.

It is also possible to prevent social phobia or block it immediately in its first manifestation, to prevent it from escalating and becoming chronic.

Among the things that parents can do to prevent the onset of social phobia, or to mitigate this phobia after it has manifested, are the following:

  • Make sure the child maintains relationships with other children his age.
  • Pay attention to any bullying or teasing, for example bullying.
  • It is important for the child to feel confident about himself, working on his safety will make him feel more capable.
  • Help them overcome their own fears.
  • Avoid abrupt changes in the social context of children.
  • Children should not be allowed to escape from situations where they have to do something in front of others.
  • Improve children’s social skills.
  • Teach him relaxation techniques and how to get positive in certain situations (with your example).

These are some of the practices and lessons that you can give your children or the child with social phobia, so that they can work and face these fears from an early age and turn them into a test passed.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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