Social phobia has a tendency to begin during adolescence, but can develop much earlier. The onset of social phobia during one’s formative years can have a devastating effect on their social development. If left unchecked it can lead to serious psychological problems in later life, maladjustment, agoraphobia, depression and even suicide.
The symptoms of excessive shyness and acute self-consciousness are relatively easy to spot. If the child speaks very softly and says very little or if they shy away from eye contact. If they often cry or throw tantrums. If they are unwilling to participate in classroom activities. If they feign illness in order to avoid having to go to school. If they are constantly alone in the playground, not joining in, or if they spend a lot of time alone in their room, there is a strong possibility that they have social phobia.
It is important not to disregard a child’s anxiety by simply telling them they’ll grow out of it. Fortunately there are many positive things parents, teachers and family members can do to encourage a socially anxious child. The most important thing is to gently encourage them to confront their feared situations a little bit at a time, never pushing them too hard.
Parents can share with their child examples of times when they have felt anxious in social situations. This way the child will feel supported and know that they are not alone in feeling the way they do. Also parents can make a conscious effort to nurture their child’s self esteem, paying them compliments and being openly affectionate.
It is important for teachers to be mindful of not doing anything to embarrass or humiliate a child and to insist on a humiliation-free environment in the classroom. They can encourage a friendship between a shy child and more outgoing child. Also they might reward any small step a socially anxious child makes to be more outgoing or participatory in class, later gradually requiring the child to do more to earn the reward.