Your child can develop a fear of interacting with others early in childhood, which can significantly affect their performance in school and other activities. This is an excessive self-consciousness and fear of criticism that can manifest in normal social situations or in occasions where they must perform in front of others. There are signs that indicate whether your child's shyness is social anxiety or a phobia, and you may be relieved to know that there are ways to help them overcome this.

Signs and Symptoms

Most children experience feelings of shyness from time to time, but social anxiety is a pervasive condition that feels uncontrollable to the child, and the episodes can seem out of proportion to the situation. If you ignore the symptoms, this problem could lead to a child becoming depressed and isolated. Signs your child has a social phobia include:

  • Refuses to talk to or look at familiar people when they come up and try to engage the child.
  • Throws a tantrum or cries when experiencing the feared situation.
  • Experiences physical symptoms like shortness of breath, shaking, or heart palpitations.
  • Won't speak in front of class, won't go to the chalkboard/whiteboard to figure out a problem in front of class, and won't raise their hand to answer questions in class.
  • Refuses to perform in front of others, even when they have had lessons, such a playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, etc.
  • Doesn't try to make friends and has few if any.
  • Doesn't want to use a public restroom or eat in public.
  • May feign illness to avoid going to school.


A child can pick up on your feelings of nervousness or shyness when around people. If you avoid talking to people in ordinary situations such as going to church, waiting for your child before and after school, or public functions, or you live like a hermit with few friends or social activities, you could be modeling this behavior for your child. The problem may be genetic, or it could arise from a child's reticent temperament.


If the child is picking up on your fears, you can model overcoming this by being friendlier, and enlarging your social sphere/activities. You can give your child small assignments like greeting a neighbor or the school crossing guard. You might try arranging play dates for your child and encourage social interaction by giving verbal praise or small rewards for their efforts like stickers or other small treats.

It would also be helpful to talk to your school's psychologist. They may have a special program at the school that your child could join for learning social skills such as a "friendship group."

To counteract performance anxiety, your child could participate in activities that are not highly competitive such as art or music lessons, karate, or dancing. If there are recitals or performances, they could opt out or you could slowly help them overcome their fears by having them perform in front of just a few, very supportive adults and gradually increase the number as they can gain confidence.


Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy can be very helpful to a child experiencing social anxiety. These involve uncovering fearful thoughts or feelings and teaching the child replace them with more helpful ones, and learning to control their anxiety through gradual exposure to the fearful situations. They learn that they can be in control of the situation and confront their fears and behaviors.

Medications such as anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, or beta blockers may be prescribed for short-term use to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. For more information, contact Living Hope Clinic.