Catches of the week:

The Observer - - FRONT PAGE - RON RAPEE

TO­WARDS the end of the month, 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 chil­dren through it.

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 per cent 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, about 2.5 per cent of young peo­ple in Aus­tralia meet cri­te­ria for so­cial anx­i­ety dis­or­der in a given 12-month pe­riod.

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

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.

So­cial anx­i­ety can oc­cur at any age – from kinder­garten to the end of high school (and into adult­hood).

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.

When their child is scared, a lov­ing par­ent can think of noth­ing more im­por­tant than pro­tect­ing them. But ex­ces­sively pro­tect­ing your child and tak­ing over doesn’t al­low them to learn through ex­pe­ri­ence.

So what can you do to help? A lot of it is com­mon-sense and prac­ti­cal skills.

Shy young peo­ple can be taught to think more real­is­ti­cally about the things that worry them. “They will think I’m an id­iot if I wear that” can be chal­lenged by ask­ing “what would you think of some­one wear­ing it?” “Ev­ery­one is star­ing at me” can be chal­lenged by get­ting the child to look around and count how many peo­ple are ac­tu­ally look­ing.

Shy young peo­ple should also be chal­lenged to gen­tly and grad­u­ally face their fears.

If you find that you, as a par­ent, have a ten­dency to jump in and reg­u­larly help your child, try to get into the habit of ask­ing your­self, “what would hap­pen if I held back for a few min­utes?”.

If you have any con­cerns about your child, seek the opin­ion of a qual­i­fied men­tal health prac­ti­tioner.

Photo: Jamie Croft

WHAT A WHOPPA: Kye Croft hold­ing up a 106cm barra caught in the Boyne River.

Photo: Katarzy­naBialasiewicz

ANX­IOUS TIME: The start of the new school year can be chal­leng­ing for shy chil­dren but there are ways you can help sup­port them.

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