Teaching Students With Social Anxiety Disorder

Teachers should be sensitive to the needs of kids with SAD.
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Teaching students with social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be challenging. School can be difficult for students with SAD. If you are a teacher of a student with social anxiety disorder, knowing how to encourage and foster a good environment for learning is key.

Below are some tips to help you structure your classroom in ways that will encourage the student with SAD.

Programs and Education

If you haven't already, implement a program like the "FRIENDS" group program in your classroom or school. This program is designed to prevent anxiety and depression for children ages 4 through 16.

For younger children, read storybooks about shyness, self-esteem, and bullying. For older children, read novels or watch movies with the same content.

The student with SAD may require social skills training or instruction in relaxation techniques delivered by a special education teacher or another team member.

How to Help a Student With Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Promote self-esteem by offering praise for small accomplishments and rewarding participation, even if the student gives a wrong answer.
  • Speak softly and calmly to the student.
  • Help the student confront feared situations with gentle encouragement.

Promote Relationships in Class

Children with SAD may have trouble bonding with others. You can help them form relationships with these strategies:

  • Pair students for activities, rather than allowing students to choose pairs, to prevent the student with social anxiety disorder from being left out.
  • For younger children, make the child with SAD your special helper to give them a role in the classroom.
  • Encourage friendships between children with social anxiety disorder and friendly, outgoing classmates.
  • Allow the child with SAD to sit with classmates with whom they are familiar.

Class Rules

Ensure that you have a zero-tolerance rule for bullying and discrimination of any kind. Have consequences in place for students who embarrass or humiliate other children to prevent this behavior in the classroom.

For example, during speeches, any child who makes rude or teasing comments during another student's speech would have marks deducted from their own grade.

More importantly, consider what the student is seeking or needing. Allow opportunities for them to positively contribute to the classroom environment (e.g., greeting students, doing errands, being a student mentor, etc.).

Special Accommodations

  • Allow the student with SAD to arrive late if it makes the transition easier.
  • Identify a "safe place" where the student can go if feeling overwhelmed. Create a signal and exit strategy for these situations.
  • Modify instructional methods if necessary, such as explaining an assignment one-on-one with the student.
  • If a student misses a lot of school due to social anxiety, allow gradual reintroduction at a pace comfortable to the student.
  • Have a pre-set time each week that the student can talk with an adult about how they are feeling and their fears.

Collaborate With Parents

Regular meetings between parents, teachers, counselors, and other school staff are important for planning classroom strategies for the student with social anxiety disorder.

A Word From Verywell

With the pandemic and social isolation, parents and teachers will likely see an increase in social anxiety. Social avoidance and isolation trigger more anxiety. It is important to validate our children's experiences and their reluctance to re-engage. Then, provide them the tools and skills they need, along with our support, to help them become comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johnstone KM, Kemps E, Chen J. A meta-analysis of universal school-based prevention programs for anxiety and depression in childrenClin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2018;21(4):466–481. doi:10.1007/s10567-018-0266-5

  2. University of New England. Nine ways teachers can help young students overcome shyness.

  3. Ryan JL, Warner CM. Treating adolescents with social anxiety disorder in schoolsChild Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2012;21(1):105–ix. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2011.08.011

Additional Reading

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."