Helping Anxious Children Navigate School Social Functions

Health Writer

When you think of school, you probably think first of academics. You plan for your child to learn math, reading, science and history. You might work with your children before they even step inside a school, making sure they are prepared.

But, for children with social anxiety disorder (SAD), it isn’t the academics that cause the problem. It can also be recess, lunchtime, classroom parties and other parts of the day that bring about fear and anxiety.

Socialization is part of our children’s education. School is where your child learns to get along with others, work with a team, make new friends. For those with SAD, the socialization aspects of school might cause intense fears. Children with SAD might fear being the center of attention; they worry that other children or teachers might think badly of them. They have a difficult time initiating conversations or even replying to a question. They might spend recess and lunch sitting alone. They might avoid joining extracurricular activities because of their fear of interacting with others. Many children with SAD have, if any, a limited number of friends.

Here are ten ideas on how to help your child manage social anxiety: Talk to your child’s teacher.** It helps if the teacher is aware of your child’s anxiety. It also helps if you share strategies that you implement at home. This way, you and the teacher can work together.

Prepare your child ahead of time. Spend time role-playing and acting out situations that make your child worried or fearful. Practice can help your child feel more comfortable.

Set up playdates with one or two other children. Find out the names of a few classmates that have shown interest in talking to your child and invite them over to your house for a playdate. Limit it to one or two other children at a time. Your child might feel more comfortable talking to others within her own home first.

Share stories of when you felt anxious in social situations. Children with anxiety often feel alone and think no one else ever feels anxious. They think there is something wrong with them. Sharing stories about yourself can help them feel less alone and help them understand there isn’t something “wrong” with them.

Look for books. Namely, onesthat help teach about shyness, anxiety, bullying and self-esteem. Use these books to start conversations and share strategies on ways to manage feelings of fear.

Make time for casual play. Children with anxiety are sometimes more comfortable in structured activities that don’t require them to initiate conversations. Support that, but look for opportunities to encourage casual play to help your child feel more comfortable talking with other children.

Praise your child’s efforts to manage anxiety. If she initiates a conversation or raises her hand in class, let her know how proud you are. Don’t scold or punish your child if she became anxious and avoided the situation. Wait and try again another day.

Teach your child relaxation skills. Deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and imagery can all be used to help calm an anxious child. Teach your child how and when to use these tools. For example, practice taking several deep breaths before raising his hand.

Help your child develop interests outside of school. Developing hobbies or getting involved with dance or sports can help your child meet other children with similar interests. These types of activities can help build self-esteem and give your child practice interacting with others.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. If your child’s fears are interfering with the ability to learn or make friends, it might be time to seek professional help. Therapy can help your child better understand her anxiety and give her strategies to help manage it.

For more information on anxiety in school:

Managing Anxiety in School: Children, Teens and College Students

Anxiety in School: Working with Your Child's Teacher

Helping Children Deal with Anxiety at School

Back to School Anxiety

Children with Anxiety: IEPs in School


Home Management Strategies for Social Anxiety Disorder: AnxietyBC

Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder): Massachusetts General Hospital