I have a 4 year old step-son who stays with us on weekends. This past weekend, he displayed an extreme episode of social anxiety, which is not unlike his behavior in the past. A friend of ours came to visit and my step-son immediately ran upstairs crying to hide. He refused to come downstairs, and so we stayed with him for a while trying to console him and then went downstairs ourselves, leaving him hiding under his covers. When he finally did come down, he would not go near the room our friend was in. When he saw her, he laid down on the ground, hid his head and cried. Our friend was at our house on three separate occasions on the weekend (for several hours at a time) and this was the same response he gave everytime. In fact, he acts like this even if his grandparents come to visit, or if we go to visit them. His mother refuses to speak to us about it and does not think there is a problem. It bothers us so much to see such a young person in such distress all the time in social situations. Do you have any advice on how we can help this situation? Thank you.
Pre-schoolers do vary greatly in relation to the degree of comfort they display in social situations, with peers and with adults. Admittedly, the social reticence your step-son displays is unusual in its degree. An important consideration is his baseline level of functioning, and whether he is likewise anxious in his day-to-day interactions (as opposed to only when he is with you).
The most responsible course would be to arrange a clinical evaluation with a mental health professional, who can gather information about your step-son's behavior in the various settings of his life. The behavior you witness warrants such an assessment, though by no means does the behavior necessarily represent the presence of serious emotional problem.
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