Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is described as fear and anxiety in social situations, extreme shyness, timidity and concerns about being negatively judged by others. Social anxiety disorder affects up to 5 percent of children, and is the third most common psychiatric disorder in childhood.

Situations that trigger anxiety and are often difficult for children with social anxiety disorder are speaking in front of the class, talking with unfamiliar children, performing in front of others, starting conversations, taking tests and interacting with strangers.

Children with social anxiety are often lonely, have fewer friends than other children their age, and report symptoms of depression.

Children who develop social anxiety before the age of 12 are not likely to outgrow the disorder. Left untreated, many children with social anxiety disorder grow up to be socially anxious adults, and they may continue to have problems in interpersonal situations.

Symptoms may include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Speaking softly
  • Trembling
  • Fidgetiness
  • Nervousness
  • Shortness of breath 

Many children complain of headaches and stomach aches, and it is not unusual for them to miss school because of their fears. Younger children may throw tantrums or cry or refuse to speak when faced with an uncomfortable situation.

Shyness is very common, but some children may be so shy that they avoid everyday activities and social situations like playing sports, reading in class, musical / athletic performances, playing with other kids, speaking to adults, or ordering food in restaurants.

These children and teens may have thoughts such as:

  • "I hope the teacher doesn't call on me."
  • "I'm going to make a mistake."
  • "They are staring at me."
  • "Nobody likes me."
  • “What if I do something stupid?”

They may feel:

  • Light-headed, dizzy, have a headache
  • Sick, have butterflies in the stomach
  • Sweaty or clammy

Children with social fears and anxiety may benefit from several different treatments.

One approach is through the use of medications that reduce children's anxious and depressed feelings.

A second approach targets the child's anxiety and teaches ways to deal effectively with overwhelming fear and anxiety.

Both approaches have been used successfully with adults with social anxiety and have shown significant promise with young children.

Last Updated 03/2015