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My question is:

  • What could be causing the new anxious behaviour in my child (described below)? Should I dig for causes beyond changes in social group, social maturity and 'academic' demands?
  • How do I help him?

While both I and my partner have our share of social anxiety our son was completly free of it until less than a year ago. Even as a baby he was always making eye contact and 'communicating' with people. Later he would enthousiastically talk to anyone: strangers, neighbours, teachers. His verbal skills developed early and almost everyone was happy and surprised to chat with this little kid. He still does all this but he has also started to develop behaviours that hint at anxiety.

He first developed the compulsion of bending his fingers and cracking his knuckels. He would do this pretty much all the time, without thinking. Once at night I witnessed him turn around in bed, crack his knuckels and continue sleeping on his other side. I tried to find out why he does it, or to find what situation causes it, but really it was there all the time. It is much less now, but the other day he wanted a playdate after school but all his friends already had other plans, and he was doing it again.

Then, 2 months ago at the time of the last covid school-lockdown, I noticed someting during a tele-meeting with his class and the teacher. The teacher asked him how his weekend was, and he was looking away from the screen, fidgetting and fumbling for words.

The most recent and most worrying is his behaviour around friends on playdates. He goofs, talks way too loud (while the friend speaks in a normal tone of voice). He tries to impress them by enacting a teenager we witnessed talking back to a neighbour when being caught smooking weed ("I dont like your face! Dont talk to me!"). He says nasty things like "Look how fat my mamma's ass is!". All the while the friend behaves normally. He has a younger friend that lives in our street and depends heavily on my son, he is at the door asking to play almost daily. My son does not display this kind of anxious behaviour around this child.

We don't really know what is going on, maybe three things happening at the same time:

  • The group of children he sees daily in school has changed and probably their games have changed too. He had a nice group of friends in school ages 4-6, games were completey uncomplicated: "Wanna play catch?" Runs away. Then aged 6 the school reshuffled his class and he had no friends in his new class. By the end of the year he made some new friends. Aged 7 he had to change classes again. Again he made some new friends, but a lot of children, especially the older ones, he does not get along with.
  • Due to covid, after school care (i dont know the english phrase) is closed. This was a major source of social interactions for him, two afternoons a week. He has no siblings.
  • School is much more demanding now. We are very relaxed parents and he is good at many things, as a result he was used to things being easy (swimming, cycling, climbing trees). Now he has to do reading, writing, math, and he has to do finish his tasks on time. He has problems concentrating and I think it may be related to anxiety. When I ask how come he didn't finish his work, he says the other children talk too much distracting him. The teacher thinks he is his own source of distraction, sometimes she has to remind him to do his work when he is vacantly staring ahead.
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I have been counseling parents for more than five years now and this is a common issue that I come across. Kids learn as they grow, and learning comes from their surroundings. And parents' behavior has a big impact on kids' attitude. Be careful with what you guys talk about around your kid, speak about the importance of having people around, and show your gratitude towards your society. It is also important to notice that with the pandemic, kids need a new way to develop which was earlier default with face-to-face classes/schooling. Help him interact with new people outside the studies and facilitate ways to pursue his hobbies. Tell him about good and bad behaviours, and share examples of good behavorial learning from his friends. This will help him develop the understanding of impact of his behaviour on his growth and success. PS: Your behavior around him is the most important, be careful.

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