Anxiety and shyness are fairly common in children. While some children are extroverts, endlessly talkative and happy to be the center of attention, introverted children tend to avoid the limelight and be more thoughtful than talkative.
While a shy child may struggle day to day with social and personal challenges in a world geared toward the success of extroverts, children with anxiety disorders may find these challenges impossible to overcome. Identifying anxiety disorders in shy children can be the first step in getting them the help they need to interact in a healthy and productive manner.
Defining a “Disorder”
Anxiety disorders differ from normal shyness and situational anxiety in that the child experiences “excessive” anxiety with regularity. “Excessive” anxiety is usually defined as anxiety that prevents the child from doing things that he or she would otherwise like to or needs to be able to do, such as making friends, participating in school, or developing at a normal rate.
Determining whether your child is content with their chosen mode of behavior and can speak up for themselves when necessary, or if they are “trapped” by their anxiety and unable to cope, will help to ensure your child’s comfort and success as they grow to adulthood.
What to Watch For
It is important to distinguish between what you personally want for your child, and the skills your child needs to have to be healthy and successful. Not having a hundred friends or not wanting to try out for the school play, for example, are not necessarily indicative of a disorder. However, there are warning signs you can look out for.
Acute distress/Panic – When a child shows signs of acute distress or discomfort in everyday situations such as meeting new people or talking to others, this is an indication of a possible anxiety disorder. Uncontrollable sweating, shaking, flushing/paleness, dizziness, nausea and rapid breathing are signs to watch for.
Refusal to Interact – While shy children will usually teach themselves to reach out to others, though they may do so more rarely than extroverted children, children with anxiety disorders may find it all but impossible to initiate conversations, much less make friends. If your child is consistently isolated and unhappy but refuses to interact with others when given the opportunity, their behavior may be related to an anxiety disorder.
Trouble in School – Trouble in school resulting from shyness, such as a refusal to participate or excessive anxiety when faced with participation can be indicative of a disorder. This can be harder to catch in male children, who may be stigmatized by teachers as merely uncooperative or lazy. Noting discrepancies between their at-home behavior and personality to the behavior and personality traits noted by teachers may help.
If your child is consistently uncomfortable, unhappy, isolated and struggling in school, the probability is high that they need assistance—be it yours or that of a professional counselor or therapist.
Keep Worry to a Minimum
Only about a quarter of children with shyness and anxiety disorders will suffer from anxiety disorders as adults. Childhood is a time of development and learning, much of which a child will do naturally on their own, whether they are extroverted or introverted. However, noticing when your child seems stuck in unhealthy patterns of behavior may help them to avoid struggling unnecessarily due to the consequences of disorder-related behavior that is outside of their control.
In identifying anxiety disorders in shy children, your attentiveness, understanding and patience are the best things you can give them to help them continue on to lead healthy, productive lives.About the Author: Ryan Rivera suffered from intense anxiety and stress as a child, and it continued into well into his adulthood. He provides strategies for adults looking to control their anxiety and the anxiety of their children.