Social Anxiety in Children

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

When children suffer from social anxiety it can interfere with their ability to learn in school. Children with social anxiety may feel as if they don't fit in with their classmates, they may be afraid of being criticized or that everyone is looking at them. They may think no one likes them or be afraid of speaking or eating in front of other people.

For children attending school, social anxiety can be devastating. It is more than just shyness, it is an extreme fear they must live with every day.

Participation in Class

Participating in class is an important part of a child's education. It helps a teacher know what their students understand and where more work is needed. Teachers rely on a student both asking and answering questions. But answering a question out loud in class can cause great distress to a student. They may be afraid to speak up; sure all of their classmates are looking at them and judging them for their answer. They may be afraid of saying something other students will think is "stupid."
When a child doesn't understand the work, it is expected they will ask the teacher a question, but for children with social anxiety, raising their hand and verbalizing their question may be extremely hard. They may sit quietly, instead, even when they do not understand, causing their grades to suffer.

Presenting Work to the Class

Students are expected to talk in front of the class from the time they are in kindergarten. "Show and tell" prepares young children for later book reports and presentations. For children with social anxiety standing in front of the class and speaking can be an immense undertaking. Grades may be, at least in part, based on a child's ability to present ideas orally. Grades, therefore, can suffer when a child becomes nervous or unable to talk in front of the class.

Making Friends

A large part of attending school is socialization. Children learn about getting along with others, making friends and maintaining friendships. But for children with social anxiety, sitting alone during recess can happen more often than interaction with other students. They may fear not fitting in or be afraid other children may not like them.

Physical Symptoms

Besides emotional distress, social anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, shaking, dizziness or muscle tension. These physical symptoms can cause children to miss days of school.

In addition to direct interference with learning, a child with social anxiety may miss important lessons because they may sit in their seats, worried about the chance of having to speak during class or a teacher calling on them. This fear can dominate their thoughts, leaving little room for paying attention to what the teacher is saying.

In an article, "Social Anxiety in Children and Adolescents", [University of California], there are some questions parents can ask to determine if they should seek help for their child:

  • Does your child fear answering questions in class?

  • Does your child get nervous around people?

  • Does your child worry about giving speeches?

  • Does your child refuse to attend group activities?

  • Does your child worry a lot about embarrassing himself or herself in front of others?

There is Help

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be helpful in treating anxiety, including social anxiety. If you believe your child is experiencing symptoms of social anxiety, contact your doctor. They may complete an evaluation to make sure symptoms are not from any physical illness. Once this is done, they should refer you to a therapist or doctor in your area that specializes in anxiety in children. For some children, if symptoms are severe or if activities are severely impacted, medication may be helpful.

Your children do not need to suffer from social anxiety. Help is available.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.