by Kathleen Welch-Torres, Ph.D.
“A small percentage of children do develop early signs of social anxiety disorder.”
Some of us are more extroverted – outgoing, social and talkative. Others are more introverted – introspective, quiet and possessing a strong ability to focus.
These differences run on a continuum, and each of us is wonderfully unique! Parents of introverted or “shy” children sometimes become unnecessarily concerned with their children’s behavior. For example, when your son is the only child at the park entertaining himself with nature while the other kids play tag. Or your daughter wants to sit and color while the other children are enjoying birthday party games as a group.
If you are a more extroverted parent, this can be particularly confusing, as it is hard to understand your child’s behavior from your own perspective.
However, a small percentage of children do develop early signs of social anxiety disorder, a persistent, intense anxiety or fear of social and other settings. The good news is, social anxiety disorder is treatable, and even children with severe social phobias can overcome them through early and appropriate mental health care.
Signs of introversion
• Reserved personality
• Prefers to avoid oral presentations in front of the class, performances, recitals, etc. (but can do so if required)
• Has only a few good friends
• Will turn down invitations to some events, like birthday parties or play dates
• Sometimes prefers to stay in their room when company is in your home
• Prefers to listen instead of speak when interacting with family members or groups of children
HOW TO PARENT AN INTROVERTED CHILD
Give your child opportunities to interact with people in the community. With you by their side, occasionally have your child ask for change from a bank teller, order their own meal in a restaurant, or ask the grocery checker where they can find the ice cream aisle.
A shy child can become overwhelmed with too many interactions, but offering a few consistent opportunities allows them to practice social skills and reduce discomfort when interacting with others.
Talk about ways to make friends. If your child wants to make new friends but is uncomfortable about how to do it, give them some tips. Suggest that your child bring their ball to the local basketball court, and ask other children if they’d like to play.
Or, perhaps your child can come with you to bring a welcome gift to the new family and children who have moved into your neighborhood. If it makes your child more comfortable, allow them to “role play” the situation at home with you first before they reach out to potential new friends.
Allow your child to set their own pace for social interactions. It’s a good idea for introverted children to explore new ways to interact with others, but avoid forcing them to participate when they are not yet ready.
Introverted children (and introverted adults, for that matter) need some alone time to recharge and renew. Let them be themselves and expand their social interactions while incorporating time for contemplation and day dreams.
“Check in with your child on how long they will be comfortable sleeping away from home at camp or at slumber parties.”
HOW TO SPOT THE SIGNS OF ANXIETY
This list will help you spot the possible signs of social anxiety disorder:
Your child talks about being lonely and wishing for more friends, but fears talking with new people.
He or she doesn’t join in with other children’s activities out of fear of being embarrassed or judged.
Your child lack’s confidence and feels like an outcast.
He or she expresses extreme discomfort or panic attacks when faced with speaking in front of classmates or before recitals or performances.
Anticipating social interactions brings on physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, sleeplessness, nightmares or lack of appetite.
Isolation, depression and/or substance abuse.
Introverted children (and introverted adults) need some alone time to recharge and renew.