My three-year-old has been diagnosed with social anxiety by a developmental specialist. His preschool teacher tells me he is ‘just shy’. Should we worry that the teacher is not taking the diagnosis seriously? What can we do to help our child?
Social Anxiety and Shyness: What’s the Difference?
There’s a wide range of what’s “normal,” when it comes to social confidence. That’s true for adults, and it’s even truer for small children. Some toddlers are easily confident with strangers, and enjoy interactions with people they don’t know very well. Other toddlers are more skeptical, and don’t welcome people’s attention until they’ve gotten to know them. We can think of those children as ‘shy.’ Still others are immobilized with fear and anxiety when they are in social situations. That kind of intense reaction is what is sometimes labelled ‘social anxiety.’
If a teacher reads a child as “shy” rather than suffering from social anxiety, the child is probably handling the social experience of the classroom pretty well, which calls into question the social anxiety diagnosis.
We want our kids to pay attention to the dangers in their environment. But when does a healthy concern become pathological? When should we consider the possibility of social anxiety? Here are some behaviours Anne Marie Albano suggests you look for:
Dynamic Tension: Identify Problems Early vs. Avoid Pathologizing Normal Development
It’s good to identify potential problems early, and address them before they get bigger. When differences are seen as learning opportunities, they often become strengths for kids. This is as true for social concerns as it is for slower development of attention, physical co-ordination, or reading.
But avoid the label unless necessary. A good rule of thumb with children’s differences from others is to avoid using an official-sounding label unless it’s absolutely necessary for the child to get the necessary treatment. That’s as true for social anxiety as it is for learning disabilities as it is for giftedness.
Labels bring problems, including the sense there is something (permanently) wrong with the child. That can erode confidence, as well as the natural learning and growing processes that would otherwise lead to the child overcoming the problem. Most times, solutions can be found without the use of a scary label.
Coping Mechanisms: Support Your Child’s Confidence in Social Situations
For more on these topics:
“Social Phobia,” by Sarah Chana Radcliffe
The Fear Fix, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe
“When young people suffer social anxiety disorder: What parents can do,” by Anne Marie Albano
“Cope as a Parent of a Preschooler with Social Anxiety,” by Arlin Cuncic
“Social Anxiety in Children,” by Raising Children Network
“When to Worry About Your Child's Worries,” by Child Mind Institute
“Ten Great Children’s Books for Teaching Social Skills,” by The Positive Classroom
“Books About Feelings for Babies and Toddlers,” by Zero to Three
“Helping Children with Anxiety,” by Living the Life Fantastic
“How Practicing Gratitude Can Help Reduce Your Child’s Anxiety,” by Living the Life Fantastic
Ungifted, by Scott Barry Kaufman
“Choose Health, Happiness, and Creativity: Start by Taking a Deep Breath,” by Dona Matthews
“Keep It Simple! 3 Parenting Tips for a Healthy Life Balance,” by Dona Matthews
Being Smart about Gifted Education, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster
Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster