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What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is a kind of anxiety that can cause children extreme worry about being rejected or judged negatively by other people. Children with social anxiety disorder aren’t just shy. They are so scared of being embarrassed that they avoid doing things they want or need to do. For example, they might refuse to go to birthday parties or speak in class or eat at a restaurant because they are afraid of what others might think of them.

What are the symptoms of social anxiety disorder?

Signs of social anxiety disorder usually start to show up between ages of eight and fifteen.

There are two main kinds of social anxiety.

  • Some kids with social anxiety are specifically afraid of performing. They avoid situations where they’ll be in the spotlight, like public speaking or trying out for a sport.
  • Other kids are afraid of social situations in general. They might be scared to go to school, eat in public, meet new people, or even just have conversations.

Kids often try to hide their social anxiety. But you might notice symptoms including:

  • Physical symptoms, like shaking, sweating and shortness of breath
  • Lots of anxious questions: “What if I say something dumb?” “What if everyone thinks I’m a loser?”
  • Tantrums and crying, especially in younger children
  • Getting upset long before they have to be in the situation they’re afraid of

How is social anxiety disorder diagnosed?

Kids with social anxiety disorder feel such intense anxiety that they either avoid social situations or get very upset during them.

To be diagnosed, the anxiety symptoms have to show up when the child is around their peers, not just adults. Symptoms must last for at least six months.

Mental health professionals often talk with parents, teachers and other adults in the child’s life when making a social anxiety disorder diagnosis.

How is social anxiety disorder treated?

Social anxiety disorder is very treatable. Children with it are treated with either behavioral therapy alone or a combination of behavioral therapy and medication.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the top psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder. It helps kids learn to manage their emotions and develop coping skills.

Kids who take medication for social anxiety disorder usually do not take it for long. Common medications include SSRIs and beta blockers.