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Social anxiety in children and adolescents or the fear of being judged: how to help them

Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders in the world, and it seems that as technology advances, so does anxiety, in many cases positioning itself as a serious public health problem.

Although it is perfectly normal to experience certain levels of anxiety in certain situations that justify it, many people feel a lot of discomfort on a constant basis, and this includes children and adolescents.

In this case, we are talking about a type of anxiety disorder: social anxiety (better known as social phobia), which is the intense fear of facing different social situations, for fear of being evaluated by others, for making a fool of yourself, etc. ., together with the avoidance of these situations.

What is social phobia and how to help our child if he suffers from it?

What is social anxiety or social phobia?

Let’s start by understanding what anxiety is about: we are talking about a feeling of constant fear and discomfort that is generated by situations that may or may not be real; it is an overactivation of the body , which is “prepared” at all levels (physical, emotional…) for a possible threat (regardless of whether it exists or not).

So, taking this into account, it is easy to deduce that social anxiety (now called social anxiety disorder) is that discomfort and fear of situations of a social nature.

This generates in the person a lot of fear of being judged or of receiving negative or ridicule from other people, as well as fear of being wrong or failing.

The constant embarrassment in situations of this type causes a lot of fear of feeling publicly humiliated, and this can make the sufferer avoid as much as possible any type of social contact.

To all this, a very low self-esteem is usually added , as well as feelings of inefficiency and negative thoughts in relation to oneself.

Symptoms of social anxiety

Children and adolescents with social anxiety are very afraid of having to do something in front of other people (such as giving an oral presentation, going to a party, asking a question in class, introducing themselves…), as well as a constant fear of being watched or of any kind of social interaction.

This can be evidenced by anxious symptoms that involve negative thoughts towards oneself, concentration difficulties, physiological hyperactivation… but also, through symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing, feelings of not having enough air.
  • Increased heart rate that feels like the heart is going to jump out of the chest.
  • Cheeks flushed.
  • Excessive sweating, mainly of the hands.
  • Much faster and shorter breaths.
  • You may experience dizziness.
  • feeling of nausea
  • Tremors and stutter.

Keep in mind that not all teens will experience the full list of symptoms; may be just some of them. Along with all this, there is also a lot of shame and emotional discomfort.

My child has social anxiety: how can I help?

If your child has social anxiety, there are some strategies you can use to help them overcome their symptoms:

Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises are one of the most effective techniques to learn to control anxiety . And it is that through these methods we help our body to regulate itself.

By lowering the heart rate and regulating breathing, the rest of the symptoms decrease, and this translates into relief of anxiety.

This type of exercise requires perseverance so that you can see the results. In addition, in the case of children they must be adapted; we will have to find a way to make them more attractive and easier to do.

Physical activity

Physical activity is a great help to reduce anxiety levels, but be careful not to choose an activity that is a factor that generates much more anxiety .

It doesn’t have to be playing sports or going to a gym, it’s enough to do brisk walks or even stretching activities at home. On the internet you can get a lot of simple exercises to do at home.

psychological therapy

Attending therapy will allow your child not only to discover the origin of his social phobia, but also to learn to recognize the symptoms and thoughts associated with his fear, as well as generate strategies to deal with different social situations.

Specifically, the therapy of choice in these cases is exposure therapy together with cognitive restructuring.

This implies that the child or adolescent progressively faces the various social situations (starting with those that generate less anxiety), as well as working on all the thoughts associated with these situations and in relation to oneself.

On the other hand, therapy will help you get to know yourself better and strengthen your self-concept and self-esteem.

Gradually face social situations (live them as a challenge)

Another strategy that can also serve you, linked to the aforementioned exposure and as a complement to therapy, is to help your child face increasingly complex social situations .

For example, take him with you to buy bread several times and when you think it’s convenient, tell him to order it himself (and so on in various situations).

It may seem like a simple thing, but for someone with social anxiety this can be quite a challenge. Remember the importance of making small advances and do not try to force situations that generate a lot of anxiety.

“Action is the best antidote to anxiety and that information is the only remedy to combat uncertainty.”

-John Verdon-

Work on eye contact

For those with social anxiety it is very difficult to be able to maintain eye contact with others (to look directly into the eyes). You can help your child work on this by having him talk to you and reminding him to always look you in the eye.

Then you can encourage him to do it with other close people, such as friends and/or family, so that he gradually learns to maintain eye contact during conversations.


Finally, relaxation works in a very similar way to breathing exercises, in that it helps bring the body back into balance. In the same way, for you to see results, children must be constant and practice them regularly.

Exercises such as Tai Chi and Yoga can be of great help, as they work not only the physical part, but also the mental and emotional, always aiming at a maximum state of relaxation.

And these exercises can be applied by our son (adapted to each context) when he has to face a social situation. The goal: reduce anxiety levels.

“Anxiety cannot be avoided, but it can be reduced. The point in managing anxiety is to reduce it to normal levels and then use that normal anxiety as a stimulus to heighten one’s awareness, alertness, and zest for life.”

-Rollo May-

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