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Students and Social Anxiety Disorder

By Yuet L.

Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as social phobia, is one of the most common anxiety disorders in the world. Not only do adults have this disorder, but children and teenagers may experience its effects as well.

Although many people believe that social anxiety is just like “being shy” and “not wanting to talk,” it is truly more than this.

Let me declare: social anxiety is more than “being quiet.”

Social Anxiety Disorder is an overwhelming, long-term feeling of anxiety and fear in social situations. It also makes the person feel overly self-conscious with the fear of being negatively judged, scrutinized, and humiliated by others.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Worrying about embarrassing or humiliating themselves
  • Intense fear of interacting and talking with strangers
  • Social withdrawal
  • Avoiding being the center of attention and speaking with people
  • Have trouble making eye contact
  • Avoiding everyday social situations such as attending parties, interacting with strangers, and eating in front of others
  • Over-analyzing social situations
  • Physical symptoms may include blushing, sweating, trembling, shaky voice, rapid heartbeat, mind blanking, upset stomach

Having some of these symptoms might not necessarily mean that your child has social anxiety. The best way to know whether your child has social anxiety is to seek a professional for psychological diagnostic testing.

Social Anxiety Disorder in Children and Teens

Social Anxiety Disorder is common amongst children and teenagers, with the age of onset falling between ages 8 to 15. Therefore, as teachers, parents, and adults, it is vital to be aware of situations that might trigger children with this type of anxiety.

  • Meeting with new people
  • Talking with strangers
  • Having to interact with authority figures
  • Large family gatherings
  • One on one conversations
  • Attending classes at school
  • Presentations and group work with fellow students
  • Eating in public

Triggers might again vary from person to person since every child is different from the other. 

Social Anxiety Disorder at School

Since school is a space that involves a lot of interactions between students and teachers, this might affect your child’s performance at school. Students with Social Anxiety Disorder therefore benefit from small adjustments in classroom activities that still allow them to participate and learn in school.

PROBLEM 1: Avoid or perform poorly in group projects. As they might struggle to express their opinions and fail to be assertive.

Possible support: Teachers may purposely group the children with people they are more comfortable with or allow students to work alone. 

PROBLEM 2: Unable to present or talk in front of the whole class. Children with social anxiety often fear speaking in front of many people, as they are afraid of being the center of attention. Therefore, they might either fail to complete the task or struggle to stop stuttering when talking/presenting.

Possible support: Teach children some relaxation methods before presenting, e.g., deep breathing, relaxing your muscles, guided imagery, meditation.
 Teachers may assign an alternative assessment for the student to avoid triggering their anxiety.

PROBLEM 3: Skipping school. Teens or children with social anxiety might skip school purposely to avoid facing uncomfortable social situations at school.
 This might affect your child’s learning, since they might not be able to catchup with the rest of the class.

Possible support: 
Parents should not judge children and force them to go to school if they feel incredibly uncomfortable. Help children take baby steps into going back to school, e.g. ask them to go to school for only one day per week, then gradually increase the amount.
 Teachers can send learning materials to the student and give extra support to the student.

PROBLEM 4: Miss out on learning opportunities. Students with Social Anxiety Disorder might avoid joining extracurricular activities such as sports, after-school clubs, community service, and tutoring classes, robbing them of valuable experiences that help develop their social and emotional growth.

Possible support: 
Parents can suggest alternative learning activities that require less social interactions for your child, for example, online activities and classes.

Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder

Although social anxiety is not typically “cured”, the symptoms can be managed effectively with treatment.

The best way forward is to undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or talking therapy, with a trained mental health professional. CBT can help children recognize their own thoughts and feelings, determine why their anxiety is triggered, and help reduce anxiety.

Medication can also help lessen the symptoms of anxiety. A combination of medication and psychotherapy can result in significant improvements for children with Social Anxiety Disorder.

Social Anxiety Disorder can drastically impact your child’s life and also their academic performance. If symptoms are getting too severe and are affecting your child’s daily life, it is essential to seek professional help.

If your child is struggling with Social Anxiety Disorder, contact the BFDC. We can help.