“I don’t want to go to school!” This is often a young person’s common complaint; however, when your child begins to protest this is possibly a symptom of a bigger problem — social anxiety. Young people who are experiencing social anxiety often refuse to go to school and complain of physical symptoms shortly before it is time for them to go. They may complain of stomachaches, nausea, or headaches. When challenged they may become defiant and have a tantrum. Studies show that anxiety disorders are common among teenagers and children as young as preschool. The average age of onset is 13 years; however, you can see social anxiety as early as 3 years.
Today, schools often expect more from their students, for example, students are given more homework without learning to develop proper skills to pace themselves. This results in them developing anxiety which will cause them to try and avoid the situation. As they proceed on the road toward adulthood, young people with social anxiety may have the tendency to choose a profession that is very solitary.
Avoidance of school only increases a young persons’ fears. They may miss out on practicing social skills, developing independence, and may fall behind with their academics. Students may worry about who is their teacher, making friends, fitting in, and academic performance. It is important to discuss your child’s fears with them. Reinforce that it is normal to have certain concerns and help them with problem solving: The goal is to not eliminate anxiety but to help your child manage their fears.
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Some strategies for helping your child cope with social anxiety and elevate their fears:
-Express positive expectations but insure that the expectations are realistic.
-Encourage your child to face his/her fears — not run away from them.
-Taking an object to school that reminds them of home.
-Consult with the school counselor.
Left untreated, young people experiencing social anxiety may face higher risks for poor performance in the classroom, avoidance of important social activities, and difficulty developing relationships with others. Young people who suffer from an anxiety disorder are likely to suffer from other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
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If we can reach young people struggling with social anxiety, we can provide them the skills to help them manage and increase their ability to interact. If you suspect your child may be socially anxious it is important to have them evaluated by a mental health professional. This will help find the reasons behind their anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective modality which helps young people develop strategies to manage their anxiety. This form of therapy is commonly used to treat phobias by focusing on stopping negative, automatic thoughts, which are associated with a feared situation and replacing them with more rational thoughts.
Being the parent of a young person who experiences anxiety is difficult, and you certainly are experiencing anxiety yourself. Please remember, we never can change yesterday, but today is about learning how to change tomorrow. Let’s get on it!
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