By Cathy Canfield
In my practice, I see a number of children who are uncomfortable and even very afraid in social situations, including school. This is called social anxiety. Some signs of social anxiety in children may include: avoiding eye contact, not speaking when spoken to, looking at the ground and avoiding signs of affection.
Recently, a parent asked me “What should I do to make him more prosocial?” Having social anxiety is a real source of fear and children are not equipped on how to manage it as adults learn to. Often in children who are socially anxious, we see that they are “normal” at home, where they feel comfortable, which can frustrate a parent further.
Children with social anxiety do best to not be “pushed” to hug their uncle that they see twice a year or make eye contact with strangers to be polite, etc. If they could, they would do it. Just as you would not put someone with a fear of flying on an airplane and tell them they will be “just fine.” It is important to let children go at their own pace at becoming more comfortable.
Sometimes just being patient and supportive with your child is enough to be helpful for them to overcome and gradually become more comfortable in social situations. Also keep in mind that some children have a tendency to be an introvert, which is okay. If a child’s social anxiety interferes with their ability to attend or perform academically or causes them extreme distress, it may be time to consult with a professional who is an experienced play therapist.
About the Author
Cathy Canfield has worked with children, adolescents and families in myriad mental health settings during her twelve years of experience. From direct care at group homes to case management to providing individual, family and group therapy as well as being the program director for an adolescent sex offender psychiatric unit, Cathy has focused her talents towards helping children, individuals and families make positive change. Cathy has worked in the DC metro area for over five years, providing intensive family preservation and mental health services for youth and families.
Cathy grew up in the Greater Cincinnati area and completed her Master of Social Work degree at the University of Southern Indiana. Cathy currently lives in Alexandria, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC, with her blended family of three kids and three dogs. She enjoys playing and listening to music, hiking and running.