One of the most concerning things for parents is when their child — who appears to be fine both physically and mentally, struggles to make and keep friends, even at a young age. If everything seems normal with your child, one possible cause is low self-esteem and social anxiety. Social anxiety can affect children, and it continues into adulthood. Low self-esteem often make anxiety worse, or can even be one of the roots causes of social phobias.
What are the characteristics of social anxiety and low self-esteem in children?
Early signs of these problems may not as apparent to you as they would be to a doctor or psychologist. You child may struggle with social anxiety if they:
- worry about future events, especially about events involving people, like birthday parties or school concerts. They may have specific fears about things that might go wrong.
- are indecisive, especially in public. Children with social anxiety often feel as though the world is watching them, which can make them feel as though every decision, even what to order at a fast food restaurant, is being judged or evaluated.
- agonize over past social indiscretions, such as interrupting somebody, tripping and falling in front of others, or saying something that your child thinks was stupid.
Low self-esteem often plays into social anxiety because it reduces confidence in your child. The above symptoms of social problems are made worse because your child will have a negative view of themselves and their abilities. Additional signs of low self-esteem include:
- lying when your child feels he might lose.
- becoming very moody, with periods of anger and depression.
- remaining self-critical, saying things like "I can't do this" or "Everything is my fault."
- worrying about what other people think of them, even people who they don't know well.
How do these affect friendship?
Children with self-esteem induced social anxiety are simultaneously needy and aloof. They struggle to connect, because they fear the depth of social connection with others, but they also crave friendship and belonging. Friendships suffer because children are often too young to process these abstract needs, and so they do not understand the behavior of your child.
Other children also may be put off by displays of strong emotion or desperate attempts to connect, simply because consistency and common ground are needed in childhood friendships. They may not know how to react to the needs of your child, so they move on and become friends with someone who is easier for them to connect with.
Also, social anxiety may affect your child's ability to communicate. Communication in childhood friendships is not as complicated as that in adult relationships, but it is still a key ingredient. In fact, psychologist John Gottman noticed that the kids who were most successful at making friends were the ones who did not tire of civil communication. They could maintain sharing about themselves and continue to obey the underlying social rules of common play.
Your child, with uncertainty and fear lurking just below the surface, would find it daunting to both, especially at the same time.
What can be done to solve them problem?
The first step is to start bringing your child to therapy at a clinic like Living Hope Clinic, so that they can have a safe place to share the depth of their anxieties to a professional. The counselor may suggest:
- practicing strategies so that your child knows how to respond in certain social situations. If they are prepared, instances of anxiety will go down.
- finding a niche where your child feels able to express themselves. This could be a sport, dance, or volunteer position.
- dealing with fears by facing them or writing them down. If your child can recognize feeling of anxiety in the moment, they may be able to move past them.
You can also help your child by recognizing instances of low self esteem and helping to resolve those feelings. Give your child opportunities where they succeed, so they can feel the glow of pride in themselves for that success. You can begin complimenting certain aspects of your child's actions, using specific words. For example, instead of saying "Good job!", say, "I really like the way you treat our dog. You can tell that Misty always loves to see you because you are so kind to her." These types of statements help a child to recognize specific good within themselves.