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Help with child's social anxiety

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I'm new here, but I would really value anybody's insght into this situation.

I have a 3 1/2 year old who has suddenly developed anxiety about being around people. Everywhere we go its "too many people" for him. At a church retreat a couple of weeks ago he hid under the pew and sobbed about too many people. Its the same story at the grocery store, the library, church, and preschool. At the moment I am avoiding extra trips out of the house but I can't avoid sending him to preschool (2 days a week when I work) and we can't hide at home forever. Any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions?
post #2 of 9
Wow, that's rough. Has something happened recently to cause this reaction? Does he have it at preschool with kids his own size, or is it adults that overwhelm him? I'm not sure if I have any advice, but I was curious about some of the details.
post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 

More details

OK, a few more details, none of which really sheds any light on the subject for me, but maybe they will ring bells for other people.

He recently changed preschools (about a month ago). The new school has more kids per class, but also more adults. The beginning and end of day routines should be easier on him (fewer room changes, consistant staff). However, preschool doesn't bring out the strongest response in him. Kids in his class are exactly his age, teachers are great and are being extra gentle with him, allowing him to adjust at his pace, opt out of activities, sit quietly by himself. End of day reports are always positive.

He got a little sister 3 months ago, but seems to have adjusted really well to this. He's great with her!

It doesn't seem to matter if there are adults or kids in the room -- he's still really bothered. Even in a big place like the grocery store (not at "rush hour") when people aren't paying particular attention to him.

Its worst at church, but no changes there recently. He does get lots of attention because we're an active family and he is the unofficial "choir mascot" -- spent most of his infancy in a carrier on my chest at choir rehearsals, so everyone thinks he is "theirs".
post #4 of 9
I remember being afraid of the church as a child. Not the people, but the structure itself was very intimidating. A few years ago as an adult I was in the UK on business and had the opportunity to tour a Cathedral and couldn't bring myself to go in by myself:-o Could it be something similar with your son? Of course, that wouldn't explain the other instances you described.
post #5 of 9
My dad has a variety of agoraphobia that sounds like this, and my sister inherited it--so does one of my close friends, she also remembers crying from being in too big a crowd. Even as adults these folks don't like a big crowd, but they have coping strategies and can deal with crowds if they have to. I don't know how a child can successfully deal with it. Perhaps a talk with your child's teacher will help you figure out what to do. Perhaps you and your son can develop strategies for dealing with this together?

Certainly this isn't unusual, is it? It just seems like it must be pretty common.
post #6 of 9
Sometimes when there are a number of changes, good or bad, that can lead to a stress response. So even though you think well this is all good, it can still be stressful. It sounds like for your son his stress response is to became scared of lots of people. Sometimes this happens after a parent was ill or some other event shook their small world.

It is hard with him being 3 1/2 to teach coping skills. Does he feel more secure in your arms? I would try to make a list of places where people are ranging from very few to quite a few. Start by taking him to the places where there are only a few people and help him to relax and cope, don't increase the number of people until he is very comfortable. This just makes logical sense to slowly expose him to more and more people but doing it with you as the lovie.

I hope that helps or at least gives you some ideas.
post #7 of 9
I agree that it is probably due to the changes. A new school and a new baby is a LOT for a little kid. Could some of it be sensory related? IS he picky about clothes, sensitive to noises, light, food textures?
Good luck.
post #8 of 9
post #9 of 9
I tend to think that this may be a part of your child's temperament. He sounds like he becomes overstimulated by too many ppl--or too much going on and that manifests itself in sobbing fits. I was much the same way as a young child. I am a shy introvert. Shyness is something that can be changed or worked on--it's lack of confidence in social situations and/or social anxiety. Introversion on the other hand is when someone gains energy from being alone. Introverts get overstimulated in large crowds and when too much is going on. Introversion can not be changed for the most part--nor should it be.

My advice is that to give him plenty of opportunities during the day to get downtime. Time to refill his cup if you will. Especially before and after you go out. This could be looking at books alone, snuggling in bed with you, listening to soft music, or taking bubble baths with or without you. All of these things can also help with any type of transition problems he could be having as well.

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