By Dr Manjiri Deshpande, Child Psychiatrist, The Pediatric Network
Your child is so shy. How many times as parents have you been told you this. What keeps you wondering-is shyness a handicap or a sign of strength? Let’s try to unravel the mystery.
Being shy, by definition is a feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort and awkwardness when the concerned person is around other people, especially new people or new surroundings. It makes them worry that people will think badly about them or that they will behave in an embarrassing way. It is a temperamental trait, usually appearing after two years as child becomes aware of one-self.
When a child scrapes his knee, mom’s there with a band-aid. When a child falls ill, dad’s there with to take him to the doctor. But what does a parent do when they can’t kiss the mental pain away?
Anxiety is nothing but a normal childhood phase with every child going through stages that are momentary and usually harmless. Watching your child develop a mental illness, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the signs can be confusing and rough for the whole family. For parents, these situations can be quite an exasperatingaffair without knowing what has to be done or said and what can they do to make it better.
Children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, shyness. They start to avoid places and activities. Experiences like watching a scary movie or seeing a rat or cockroach are temporary fears which can be reassured and comforted. But that is not enough to help a child with an anxiety disorder get past his or her fear and anxiety.
Who is a shy child?
One who is:
- Uncomfortable speaking to teachers or peers
- Avoids eye contact, mumble or speak quietly when addressed by other people
- Blushes or trembles around other people
- Cries or throws a tantrum when confronted with new people
- Expresses excessive worry about doing or saying something wrong or fear that people will laugh at him
- Complains of stomach aches and want to stay home from school, field trips or parties
- Withdrawing from activities and wants to spend more time at home
- Doesn’t want to go to school or to play
How to differentiate normal shyness from social anxiety disorder?
A shy child will take longer to warm up to a situation or a person but eventually he will. This child is at peace with himself, generally quiet, behaviour is overall pleasant and people are comfortable being around him.
In contrast, the anxiety of children with social phobia will remain the same or increase when they have to interact with people. They would prefer to avoid such a situation altogether for fear of being scrutinized by others.
Anxiety disorders often co-occur with depression as well as eating disorders and others.
Anxiety disorders mostly affect one in eight children. Various researches conducted reveal that untreated kids with anxiety disorders are at an advancedthreat to display poor performance while at school, miss out on vital social skillsand involvethemselves in substance abuselater on in life.
Below is the list of childhood anxiety disorders which every parent must be aware of:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Children falling prey to this disorder, will continue to ponderexcessively about a gamut of things such as results and scores, family matters, and relationship issues with friends.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety means a child upsetting about not being surrounded by his parent’s or care taker. Such types of anxieties occur very commonly in young children. It can be a task to settle these kid’s in nursery or school.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Also known as social phobia, these anxietiesarecategorised by astrongdread of social and performance related circumstances and actionslike conversing with peer’s or facing the classroom for a presentation.
Children who refuse to speak in situations or in public where talking is expected or necessarysuffer from this disorder. This interferes their attempt to make friends and generally tend be lonely.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is characterized by unwanted and intrusive obsessions and feeling compelled to repeatedly perform particular actions to try and ease anxiety.
A specific phobia is the intense, irrational fear or sudden panic of a specific object such as a dog or a situation such as falling. Common childhood phobias include animals, storms, heights, water, blood, darkness and medical procedures.
Parents should be very observant while their children are in the growing phase. They must look out for certain signs in the child to protect them from the nearing anxieties and help them overcome it with ease. When the child is finding it difficult to concentrate, not sleeping or eating properly, always tensed and crying, getting hyper and angry and being out of control during outbursts that is when he or she needs immediate help.
Another addition to the child anxiety issue in today’s world is the growing presence of social media and the nonstop accessibility. It magnifies the level of anxiousness among children, especially adolescents when they are in a very vulnerable time and feeling as though others may be judging them on a daily basis.
Children tend become overwhelmed and obsessed with their social media.They get more anxious when their device is not with them. They worry that they’re missing something, missing out which has the possibilities to derail day-to-day functioning.
Hence, it is extremely important for parents to set boundaries, monitor their child’s social media interaction and insist on no electronic devices before bedtime.
Listed below are simple things parents can do at home to help their child manage anxiety disorder:
- Understand what the child feels about a certain thing or situation and pay attention to their needs
- Stay calm and be informative when the child becomes anxious about a particular situation
- Always recognize and praise the child’s smallest of achievements
- Never lecture the child for their failures or low grades repeatedly instead help them understand where they lack to seek improvement
- Be flexible but try to maintain a normal routine.
- Plan for transitions to break the monotonous routine
- Discuss with them the latest happenings on social media or be friends with them on social media platform to check on their daily updates
- Involve them in important conversations or family discussions whenever required
How can a counsellor help?
A counsellor will first identify whether it is plain shyness or social anxiety disorder.
CBT i.e. cognitive behaviour therapy is carried out in cases of social anxiety. In CBT, the false beliefs that the child is harbouring (people are laughing at me, I will make a mistake etc.) are brought out and then the child is exposed gradually to situations that usually cause him fear. The child is praised and encouraged for every small step taken and as they become accustomed to each of the fearful situations in turn, the anxiety fades, and they are ready to take on increasingly powerful ones.
Parents need to bear in mind that the child being diagnosed for an anxiety disorder nowhere indicates to faulty parenting. Also anxiety brings along with itself a great amount of stress to your family life, these situations can be dealt with ease with maximum support from your family. It is only you who can help your child overcome anxiety and emerge as a champion!