Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another. Fear of something unknown and how we will handle the situation is a common scenario. Most people are able to acknowledge the anxiety and use some type of coping mechanism to overcome the fear and deal with the situation. People with social anxiety, particularly children, do not have this ability. Anxiety in children is often overlooked as these children are intensely afraid of being noticed and do their utmost to avoid undue attention where they may be judged, embarrassed or humiliated. These are infact some of the symptoms of anxiety.
It is estimated that 13% of the general population suffer from social anxiety at one time or another in their lives. The symptoms of anxiety include: fear of unknown people or situations; fear of being judged; anxiety about being embarrassed or humiliated; fear others will recognize the anxiety; and dread of events even weeks in the future. These fears can be exhibited physically through blushing, profuse sweating, tremors, stuttering, inability to initiate conversations, avoiding eye contact and rapid pulse. The fears that cause the symptoms of anxiety are out of proportion to the reality of the actual situation. While adults may recognize this, children do not.
Anxiety In The Classroom
How does anxiety exhibit itself in the classroom? Anxiety in children is shown in different ways according to age of the child. In elementary school children social anxiety presents itself as a difficulty or extreme reluctance to: read aloud or answer questions; begin or participate in group discussions; write answers on the blackboard; and perform music or athletics activities. Teenagers symptoms of anxiety include additional things such as: skipping school; drug or alcohol abuse; fear of public speaking; difficulties in dating or employment; and fears of using public restrooms. These symptoms must have been present for at least six months, the children must have demonstrated in the past a capacity for age-appropriate interactions and the anxiety must be present in their interactions with peers as well as adults to be classified as social anxiety.
Strategies for classroom teachers dealing with anxiety in children must take a two pronged approach. First we need to create a situation in the classroom where the child feels safe and accepted and second, as the symptoms of anxiety begin to subside, gradually provide them with opportunities to shine. These children need structure and predictability. The daily schedule should be posted on the board and for older children a long range calendar of events, project due dates and test schedules with clear guidelines and delineation of expectations are very helpful. Often the child with social anxiety will need to have modifications in his/her program such as extended test time, the chance to present an oral report through a recorded medium, and inclusion
of every child response systems rather than blackboard answer format.
Anxiety in children can be reduced by closely monitoring our students for the symptoms of anxiety. Being aware that the student who never volunteers to answer, frequently turns in assignments full of eraser marks and missing information or often leaves class in the middle of the day due to a headache or stomach ache may be suffering from classroom anxiety. With proper support, both in school via the teacher and school counselor and via parent involvement at home, these children can be helped to become self-confident, engaged and happy members of our classroom and overcome their anxiety.