What Blows Up
Normal Social Apprehension into Social Anxiety

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Social anxiety disorder differs from normal apprehension of social situations. Children who suffer from social phobia harbour seven major facets of fear. The precise cause why the normal social apprehension of formative years blows up into abnormal anxiety in children is not yet determined, but several contributing factors have been isolated.

Normal apprehension of social situations in children

Normal anxiety in children is first noted when a 6-7 month old infant shrinks away from social contact of a stranger. This social apprehension is an integral part of normal early childhood development.  

Most children, as they grow, learn to deal with day to day normal apprehension encountered in various social situations. They master skills and develop healthy sense of coherence to meet ever rising new challenges for goal oriented results.

Healthy sense of coherence implies, proper and logical understanding of environmental inputs along with confidence in one’s abilities and resources. 

Facets of abnormal anxiety in children

Seven Major Facets of Fear in All Social Interactions

Fear of being judged unfavourably by others lies at the core of social anxiety.

Children with social phobia perceive that people have negative opinion of them, which is extremely distasteful, unacceptable and inconsistent with their actual personality. As a result, the perceived attitudes, values, standards and the opinions of others haunt them and eventually they start believing in them.

The onset of abnormal social apprehension is usually gradual in a child who has history of poor cosolability, excessive shyness, social inhibitions or difficulty in falling asleep right from infancy onwards. 

In vulnerable children, social anxiety can also be triggered abruptly by stressful situations like feeling of rejection following birth of a sibling or parental discord, peer-related difficulties or humiliating social experience.

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Contributing factors for social phobia

Though social phobia is often associated with shyness, sensitiveness and other temperamental factors, its exact predisposing factors are yet not quite clear. Many factors contribute to social anxiety that adversely affect child’s day to day play, school performance and social competence.
Causes vary with each individual. 

  1. Genetic predisposition

  2. Innate temperament

    i. Shyness

    ii. Inhibited behaviour

    iii. Sensitiveness

  3. Environmental influences

    i. Family influences:

    a) Parent-child interaction

    b) Parents’ dispute and divorce

    c)  Parental rejection or overprotection

    d) Mental health issues in either of the parents

    e) Substance abuse and alcoholism in one or both parents.

    f) Anxiety in the family and in relationships.

    ii. Childcare facilities

    iii. Teachers’ influence:
    Teachers are parent-surrogates for their students.
    They strongly influence children’s social development.
    Their beliefs, opinions and attitude shape children's self-concept both in academic and social fields. Unhealthy teacher-student relationship, miscommunication, biased confusing expectations and indifferent approach leave a negative impact on children’s mind.

    iv. Bullying

    v. Peer preessure or rejection

  4. Coexisting developmental deficiencies:

    i. Physical abnormality – Birth defect or an accident sequel

    ii. Hearing defect

    iii. Vision impairment

    iv. Poor coordination due to neurological disorder or vision defect

    v. Unclear speech 

    vi. Learning disabilities; Dyslexia, ADHD, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia etc.

    vii. Poor development of skills - motor, social, communication or cognitive

    viii. Disturbed neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that are responsible for transmitting signals in the brain, yet need confirmation as an underlying cause of social anxiety disorder.

  5. Traumatic childhood experiences

    i. Separation from parent

    ii. Domestic violence

    iii. Neglect or abuse

    iv. Victim of disaster – natural or war inflicted

    v. Relocation

    vi. Death or severe sickness in near and dear one

    vii. Financial insecurity

  6. Personality characteristics influence social interactions and academic achievements, and paucity of either can predispose to development of social anxiety in children. 

    i. Low self-esteem

    ii. Poor sense of coherence

    iii. Disturbed thought process that leads to difficulty in problem solving capabilities.

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