Many people think that participation shouldn’t count in school assessments. When asked why they hold that view, they’ll likely say you have to account for social anxiety, which can cause children to prefer to stay silent in class.
Teachers, learning specialists, parents, and school administrators often have to decide if they should (and why) make accommodations for kids with social anxiety. If you’re still on the fence, this piece is for you; if you’re wondering what the deal is with social anxiety in the classroom and how it may affect participation this article is for you.
Social Anxiety in the Classroom
Mostly sitting at the back of the class, the child rarely speaks, especially when the teacher asks direct questions; they try to make their posture small, so everyone will ignore them. At first, the teacher will try to get them to engage with the rest of the class, but very soon, even the teacher gives up.
That is the socially-anxious child in the classroom.
In this case, the child’s social anxiety manifests a negative participation grade without necessarily drawing a medical diagnosis such as selective mutism. Nonetheless, social anxiety and a lack of class participation can have a crippling effect on a child; it can take a toll on their mental health if not managed properly. Social anxiety can mean the difference between excellent grades, or grades that don’t reflect a student’s true potential. Suppose a child can’t participate and engage with non-written class exercises. In that case, it can be challenging for their teacher to decide that they’ve learned the material and assign a grade that reflects proficiency.
What Social Anxiety Looks Like in Kids
Kids with social anxiety often feel;
- Self-conscious when they have to speak in front of the class or eat with other kids in the cafeteria
- Physically stressed when they have to go to school or participate in a class activity.
- Easily embarrassed
- Panic attacks when they’re triggered in class (their palms and forehead get sweaty, they have a racing heartbeat, and they may even start shaking visibly
Social anxiety can show up in kids from mild to extreme levels. The more powerful the feelings of social anxiety are, the more withdrawn a child becomes, affecting their social and academic life.
So, what can we do about it?
Parents & Their Kid’s Social Anxiety
If a child constantly avoids interacting with peers, you should explore the extent of this preference; it might be social anxiety. When you identify any signs of social anxiety, your first reaction may be uncertainty–how can I help my kid get through this; I hope I don’t make things worse, and so on…
The first thing to do is to try to converse with them about what you’ve noticed. Remember, you’re not trying to be overbearing or command them to be more interactive. You’re trying to understand what the experience is like for them.
That honest conversation with your kid will most likely open your eyes to their struggle. The more accurate the information you have about their struggle is, the more likely you will be to help them through it. Many parents choose to enlist the help of a therapist or learning specialist when they feel like they’re out of their depth with their child’s social anxiety.
Instead of making overbearing accommodations for your child, try this instead…expose your child to their trigger situations in small, controlled bits and practice overcoming their anxiety with them in real-time. Accommodations are vitally important, but if you simply remove the need for social interaction or participation in a given classroom the child will never grow. Furthermore, as an adult, they will be lacking a crucial skill often required for success in multiple fields.
Teachers & Their Student’s Social Anxiety
Sometimes, the teachers notice a kid’s social anxiety before the parents do. Teachers are in school, the social setting where kids are likely to face their first, most important social experiences, and they witness firsthand how a kid is coping.
Teachers have several options, to begin with. A teacher may involve the kid’s parents immediately, mostly when they want to find out if something at home is causing social anxiety. In schools, proactive teachers take any of the following steps for their students with social anxiety;
- Show the child some relaxation techniques for when they get panic attacks.
- Inform them ahead of time that you will have questions for them mid-lesson.
- Allow them to pick their partner for group projects.
- Offer an alternative space to eat lunch (away from their peers).
- Give them a quiet, safe space where they can go when they feel overwhelmed.
- Maintain positivity and patience as they learn to cope with classroom activity.
- Offer to team up with the student to rehearse for school reports or public speaking activities
- Assign another student to support the student with social anxiety (sometimes throughout the school term)
- Organize classroom exercises so that anxious students aren’t left out
This way when the teacher can’t spare the time to rehearse with them or their friends and the assigned class support buddy isn’t available, they don’t end up back at square one. So, as a teacher, you must ask, how can I encourage the socially-anxious kid to handle their anxiety more independently?
Lastly, don’t forget to stay patient and positive; your student can improve, one challenging situation at a time!
If You’re Friends with Someone with Social Anxiety…
It’s easy to want always to be protective of them, but, at some point, you’ll have to wonder for how long you can protect them; it’s better to offer them support and tools instead.
As a parent, teacher, or friend of someone with social anxiety, your ultimate goal must be to gently and positively inspire them to overcome their social anxiety with small actions that gradually yield more extensive results. A therapist and learning specialist can go a long way to help in the most severe cases, so remember to explore that option.
I hope this helps!