Social Anxiety: What to Look For

Children with social phobia are often inordinately fearful of criticism. They may express their anxiety by asking, “What if I do something stupid?” or “What if I say the wrong thing?” Young children sometimes throw tantrums and cry when confronted with a situation that terrifies them, behavior that can be misunderstood as oppositional. The fear they experience may trigger physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, and shortness of breath, and may significantly interfere with daily life. The anxiety may occur well in advance of the dreaded situation.

The fear a child with social anxiety disorder experineces is out of proportion to the actual risk of being judged negatively, or the consequences of a negative evaluation.

There are two main types of social anxiety disorder. The first focuses on performance—things like speaking in public, ordering in restaurants, shopping in stores. The second is interactional, which pertains to social situations even when you’re not in the spotlight. Children with interactional social anxiety may fear going to school, eating in public, and using public restrooms. Most people with interactional social anxiety also experience performance social anxiety.