Back To School Blues: How To Help Your Child With Shyness
Ron Rapee, 27 Jan 18
       

Excessively protecting your child and taking over, doesn’t allow them to learn through experience. Shutterstock


This series draws on the latest research on back to school transitions. In it, the experts explain how best to prepare children for school, and counter difficulties such as stress or bad behaviour.


Around the end of January, more than 3.5 million young people will start or return to schools across Australia.

For most young people this is a time of high excitement and energy. The long holidays are coming to an end and they are looking forward to seeing old friends, making new ones, and being a grade higher. But the excitement is often tinged with a hint of trepidation – “who will be in my class”, “will they still like me”, “what teachers will I get”? For some young people, these worries can dominate their life.

The good news is parents can help their kids through it.

What is shyness and social anxiety?

Shyness is a personality characteristic that exists on a continuum across the community from very low to the highest levels. When we use the term shyness, we are usually referring to the upper levels – up to 40% of people describe themselves as shy. When shyness becomes very severe and starts to affect a person’s life, it can be diagnosed using the clinical term, “social anxiety disorder”. When diagnosed correctly, around 2.5% of young people in Australia meet criteria for social anxiety disorder in a given 12-month period.


Read more: Childhood shyness: when is it normal and when is it cause for concern?


So, around one child in every typical Australian classroom will have this clinical disorder, and up to a dozen will be shy.

Socially anxious young people worry excessively about what others think of them and how they come across. They are very self-conscious and often freeze or become confused when they are the focus of attention.

Going back to school is the stuff of nightmares for these children. Some of the hardest experiences for a socially anxious young person will be found at school: meeting new kids, talking to authority figures, standing in front of a group, getting into trouble, and negotiating the hierarchies of the playground.

Going back to school can be a difficult time for shy kids. Shutterstock

Shy youth can make good friendships, but usually have fewer friends than other kids. They are also more likely to be the targets of bullying. Many of these young people will be terrified at the prospect of going to school and the first few weeks will be especially hard.

Social anxiety can occur at any age – from kindergarten to the end of high school (and into adulthood). But it generally increases in the early teenage years, which is when most young people start to become more self-conscious.

Social anxiety is slightly more common in girls than boys. There is clearly a genetic aspect and parents of shy young people are often themselves slightly more shy than average. Aside from that, social anxiety cuts across society: it makes no difference whether families are rich or poor, from any particular cultural group, or married or divorced.

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