Social Anxiety During Classroom Holiday Parties

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Although social anxiety disorder (SAD) frequently shows up in adolescents, young children can also suffer from SAD. Some of the symptoms in children and adolescents include:


    • Tantrums or being clingy
    • Inability or reluctance to make eye contact
    • Talking very little or not talking at all in school or other public situations
    • Anxiety about tests and exams
    • Avoidance of school and other social situations
    • Frequent stomachaches or headaches when faced with social situations or when trying to avoid school
    • Avoiding contact with schoolmates, standing on sidelines during recess, having only a few or no friends
    • Spending a great deal of time alone


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    Although social anxiety disorder can create problems for children all year around, the holiday season presents some special challenges in school. Parties, school plays and assemblies and group activities in the classroom disrupt the normal routine and can create an enormous amount of fear in children with SAD.


    Parents can help children with SAD by planning in advance and working with the teacher to come up with solutions to some of the most common areas of difficulty.


    SAD and Overwhelm


    Children with SAD may easily become overwhelmed during classroom parties. The high level of activity, the lack of structure, the loud noise and being required to interact with the other children in different activities can create fear and anxiety. Plan in advance by asking the teacher to designate a quiet corner in the room where the student can retreat if the party becomes too overwhelming.


    Find Ways for the Child to Participate


    If direct interaction with other students is too difficult for the child, the teacher may be able to find ways the child can help with minimum interaction. For example, the student may be able to place cookies on a plate to be handed out, prepare crafts to be made or help with clean up. This may help him or her feel part of the celebration but eliminate the stress of having constant interaction.


    Keep Games and Activities Structured


    Games that are highly structured are the best for children with anxiety. When they know what to expect and are prepared for the activity, they are better able to cope with their symptoms of anxiety. Crafts that are well organized and activities, which involve smaller groups rather than the whole class, may be easier for the child with anxiety. Parents may want to volunteer to help out during classroom parties to provide support and encouragement, but should be careful to not allow the child to cling to the parent.


    Provide Support


    Teachers and classroom aids should be supportive of the child with social anxiety, offering gentle encouragement. Children should not be forced to talk in front of the class or be placed in situations that may increase their anxiety.


    Prepare the Child in Advance


    Teachers and parents can talk with the child in advance of the party. Letting the child know what to expect and what their role will be can help a child better cope with symptoms of anxiety. Let the child know what games will be played, what activities will be present and what crafts will be made. If there will be activities which require a child to speak in front of the class, such as a holiday spelling bee, see if there is a different role the child can do instead, such as keeping score.


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    Children with social anxiety are not just "shy." Social anxiety can cause pain and frustration. Physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches are very real. Providing a supportive and encouraging environment where children can grow and learn can help them feel safe and secure.



     Additional Reading:


    How Children Develop Fears and Anxiety Disorders


    Helping Children with Holiday Anxiety


Published On: November 28, 2009