BARRA ON THE BITE
Catches of the week:
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.
WHAT A WHOPPA: Kye Croft holding up a 106cm barra caught in the Boyne River.
ANXIOUS TIME: The start of the new school year can be challenging for shy children but there are ways you can help support them.