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Pediatric Social Phobia
What is Social Phobia?
Social phobia (SP) is an intense fear of performing in front of people or other social situations where the child or teen feels embarrassed, humiliated, or the focus of more attention than he or she wants. Children and teens who suffer from SP constantly fear looking foolish or stupid in front of other children and teens or in front of adults. They will avoid social situations or will enter social situations with extreme anxiety, nervousness, and stress. Children and teens with SP often have few or no friends and participate in very few social activities.
SP is different from shyness. Shy children can be uneasy and quiet around others, but they do not necessarily avoid situations that make them feel uncomfortable. Also, after a short period, shy children usually feel more comfortable. By comparison, SP disrupts a child’s or teen’s life by making it difficult to deal with school or social relationships. Symptoms must be present for at least six months for a child to be diagnosed with SP.
What are the Primary Symptoms of Social Phobia?
These are some of the most common symptoms of SP in children:
- Avoiding or refusing to go to school
- Refusing to speak in socials settings or speaking in an very soft or low tone
- Showing poor social skills (for example, poor eye contact)
- Being afraid to use public restrooms
- Being afraid to eat in front of others
- Refusing to speak on the phone
- Expressing wants and thoughts with great difficulty
- Being afraid to date (in teens)
- Refusing to give public performances of difficulty giving them
- Being afraid of being called on in class
How is Social Phobia Diagnosed?
At Children’s National, child psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals may interview the child or teen and his or her parents. We may have the patient and family fill out questionnaires about different aspects of the child’s or teen’s life, including physical health concerns, difficulties at school, or behavior with friends and family.
Treatment for Social Phobia
Following a full assessment, a member of the Children’s National care team will discuss treatment options with the child or teen and his or her family. Both cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) and certain types of medicines are helpful in treating SP in children and teens.
- CBT teaches new social skills so children and teens can feel more confident in social settings. Children and teens are guided in developing a list of situations that are challenging, such as attending a party, talking on the phone, or asking for help. With the help of a therapist, children and teens learn to gradually face these situations using new skills.
- Medicines most often used to treat SP are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications affect neurotransmitters (nerve cells in the brain that carry signals) linked to anxiety.
The Anxiety Disorders Program at Children's National Hospital is a specialized treatment clinic devoted to carefully assessing and effectively treating a wide range of anxiety disorders common among children and adolescents.
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s National offers assessment, diagnosis and care for children and teens with behavioral, emotional and developmental disorders.
In the Division of Psychology and Behavioral Health, our child psychologists and other mental health professionals work exclusively with children and teens, emphasizing patient and family-focused care.
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