Shyness and social anxiety are not the same thing. Many people can be shy and/or introverted, but still not struggle with any significant anxieties or fears when faced with social interaction – nor the symptoms that may exist with children that have social anxiety, such as fear of being judged.
But while shyness is not a synonym of social anxiety, they can be related and interact. This can be especially true for preteens and teens. Many children and young people show signs of shyness without the social anxiety, but can potentially develop social anxiety as a result of some of the challenges that teens and tweens face socially.
Young People and Social Development
Younger children are trying to learn their social place and navigate the world. They’re developing not only their social skills, but their coping skills. They’re trying to understand themselves and how others see them. They are also surrounded by children that are still developing in their maturity.
This can lead to situations where children are judged or bullied because of their shyness. They may appear awkward or “weird” to others in their peer group. This can lead to situations where a child’s shyness becomes something more – something where the way their peer group responds to their shy interactions ends up leading to the development of social anxiety.
As parents and caregivers, we want to make sure that we’re helping our kids navigate these struggles. That means paying attention to the difference between the two, working on ways to build confidence, and helping children maintain a positive self-image.
How to Tell the Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety
Both shyness and social anxiety can present in very similar ways. Often, it is the smaller details that make it easier to tell them both apart.
- Child may have and be satisfied with a few close friends.
- Child may not express themselves socially, but be capable of being present.
- Child may “warm up” to some people and be less shy with them.
- Child looks and acts fearful in social situations.
- Child may actively avoid them, or show extreme discomfort.
- Child may describe worry, fear of being judged, and fear of embarrassment.
Many people also assume that social anxiety is related to introversion. While that may be true at times, social anxiety can also occur in the extroverted. That is because anxiety is what holds them back socially, not a desire for being alone. If anything, the presence of social anxiety indicates a desire for social situations that is more common of extroverts, not introverts.
Taking Steps to Prevent Shyness from Becoming Social Anxiety
If your child already displays signs of social anxiety, a child therapist can help. Working with your child, they can develop their social skills and self confidence, while also addressing some of the child’s negative self-talk.
But if your child is just shy, this is still an age where it is useful to try to support your child socially in ways that help prevent social anxiety from forming. Social anxiety can impact self-esteem, friendships, the ability to obtain social support, and the social experiences that can help them later in life. Preventing this can be beneficial for their long term development.
How to Support Shy Tweens and Prevent Social Anxiety Development
Therapy for children and teens can help young people that are struggling with shyness. Therapists know how to support children with skill straining, coping, and relationship development. But parents can also help prevent shyness from turning into social anxiety by:
- Helping Them Create a Core Group of Friends – Social support is one of the most powerful tools for building confidence and coping with social stressors. If your shy child doesn’t want to interact with many kids, see if you can connect them with a few friends they truly appreciate, and then encourage them to build on those relationships. This can help give them the social support they need to withstand awkwardness.
- Let Them See You – Seeing you socially can help them socially. They learn to navigate some of the complexities of relationships and understand more about how to maintain conversations by watching how you interact with others in your life. It helps to normalize the experience and make it seem less foreign or fear inducing.
- Teach Social Skills – Your child may not desire to be that social, but they still need to learn social skills. Talk with them, play with them, and teach them how to talk to others so that they’re ready if a situation presents itself.
- Build Their Self Image – Make sure that you are always working on building their self-esteem and self-image. It is one of the most effective ways to help your child be resilient in the face of any negativity or emotional discomfort.
Shyness is not at all guaranteed to become social anxiety. But the experiences that young people have while shy can still affect them. Learning how to address these issues head on can help, and – if you find that your child has developed social anxiety – speaking with a therapist in Brooklyn can provide added support that your child may need.