Social anxiety is a form of anxiety where a person is extremely shy, nervous, or self-conscious about themselves when in social situations. People with social anxiety worry about how they are perceived by others, being judged by others, making mistakes in social situations, and performing in front of others (e.g., answering questions). There is often a general feeling of insecurity about being around others.
Social Anxiety at School
Social anxiety can be very detrimental to a student at school. It interferes with a child’s ability to make friends with peers and to take part in the process of learning.
One form of social anxiety often seen at school in younger students is selective mutism. Selectively mute students are capable of speaking and often speak at home and in front of family members; however, they refuse to talk to others in social situations because they have feelings of insecurity, are afraid of speaking in front of others, and are afraid being criticized.
Students with social anxiety do not participate in class. This includes refusal to raise a hand to answer questions, not responding when called upon to answer questions, and being afraid to ask a question when help is needed. Lack of participation negatively impacts academic performance, as teachers have more difficulty monitoring understanding and progress.
Socially anxious students isolate themselves from others by sitting alone at lunch, not playing with other students at recess, and not participating in extracurricular activities such as clubs and sports. These students are often on the fringes of larger groups, wanting to join in, but too full of fear and uncertainty to take that risk. This self isolation results in missed opportunities for students to learn and fine tune their social skills. By not participating with peer activities these students miss opportunities to learn conflict resolution, problem-solving, negotiation, and sportsmanship skills.
When students have a lot of anxiety about being in social situations they may avoid coming to school. These students may feign illness or they may actually have physical symptoms such as feeling nauseous, dizzy, light headed, or shaky, and they interpret them as being physically sick rather than being manifestations of their anxiety. Younger students may throw tantrums or act out in order to avoid going to school as they may not have the language skills or wherewithal to identify, interpret, and explain their emotions. Older students may skip school, leave school after getting there, or drop out.
Treatment in School
Students with social anxiety tend to avoid social interactions and situations that cause them to feel uncomfortable. However, avoiding these types of situations only allows the fear to grow and become stronger. These students need to learn how to control their irrational fears so that they can become comfortable when around others.
Treatment at school typically involves some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Students need to gradually increase their level of comfortableness around others. They may need to start by having positive interactions with one person in the school and then slowly increase the amount of people and the demands. As they become more comfortable, they are able to gain control over their emotional and confidence in themselves. This process is gradual and may take quite awhile; however it is well worth the effort.