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School-Based Interventions : Social Anxiety
Interventions for Social Fears

  1. Allow the student to observe several other students before attempting a task

    If the student resists speaking in class, allow the student to observe others, focusing on how they start, how long they speak, where they look, and how they stop.
  2. Have the student practice speaking in front of small groups before presenting to the entire class

    Have students practice speeches in groups of three to four peers. Put familiar peers "in the front row" for the student to look at while he/she performs a speech.
  3. Display the student's work (after discussing, and ensuring that it's okay with the student)

    Allow student assignments done well to be displayed, after telling the student what you are doing (usually better to put up multiple students' assignments).
  4. Allow the student to sit among familiar, or preferred classmates

    Identify peers the student feels safe sitting close to, and configure some students (not all) into close proximity; guide the student about how to talk to peers about assignments ("how many questions do we have to answer? when is this due? where do we start?")
  5. Identify specific others with whom the student can do academic tasks

    Configure "good match" peers with whom the student can work and make class presentations. When the student does not know the answer when called on, allow the student to select a "lifeline" (peer whom he/she believes will know the correct answer). If the student uses a lifeline, do not accept the answer until the student using the lifeline states whether he/she thinks the lifeline's answer is correct.
  6. Use a calm, quiet voice to reduce the student's anxiety

    Establish a ritual of using an "inside voice" (softer volume) and signals (the teacher's hand pushing down signals lower volume).
  7. Prepare a younger student for social interactions by practicing first with puppets

    Allow students to practice social encounters (initiate, sustain, and conclude a conversation) in the role of puppets; scripts may be required initially for some students ("Hi, I'm Bunny the Rabbit, what's your name? I like to eat carrots--what do like to eat? Where do you like to play? I have to go now. Thanks for talking with me. Goodbye.")
  8. Specify time to discuss/address recognized fears and worries outside class

    "We'll practice the start of your speech at the end of lunch today."
  9. Have the student share his/her feelings with a specified adult and/or peer in a structured setting at specified times every week

    Identify an appropriate (desired, or common interest) peer or staff person and establish specific times for the student to share his/her feelings.


  • Watch movies that include social encounters and identify what others did to be comfortable

    Have the student describe what a movie character did with his/her eyes, speech volume/rate, head-shaking, and hand/foot movements while talking to others; how others reacted; and how the student felt observing the character. top

Specialized Instruction

  • Have the student rehearse social skills in a smaller or more relaxed setting

    In a small group facilitated by a counselor, have students review and role play how to make and keep friends. Give students homework to practice skills in other settings (classroom, playground, home play date, etc.).
  • Have the student role-play common social encounters

    Pick frequent or familiar social situations (buying grocery items, ordering at a restaurant, asking others to play soccer, establishing rules in playground games, arranging play dates with preferred peers) and allow, initially in small groups, the student to role-play with other students
  • Identify and practice steps for the student to self-monitor appropriate peer interactions

    Discuss important social skills: "Am I letting the other people talk, too? Are they laughing or having fun? Are we taking turns? Am I learning something from this conversation?"
  • Role-play the student receiving compliments/encouragement from others

    Expand options and analyze consequences of different responses to compliments or encouraging statements.
  • Encourage positive self-talk

    Introduce positive "scripts" to practice in anxiety-provoking situations, such as "I have sung with the chorus many times before, so now I'll start by looking at the music, taking a deep breath, and reminding myself that I like the tune we're singing".
  • Help the student evaluate the evidence for his/her negative conclusions

    The student says "I can't go to gym class. Everyone will laugh at me". Ask him/her: "What happened last time you went to gym class? Did any good things happen last time?"
  • Challenge the student's negative cognitions

    The student says "I can't go to school because people will make fun of me." Ask him/her: "what do students do when they arrive at school? Which students are glad to see you?"
  • Help the student identify automatic negative thoughts

    The student says "I'm no fun. No one wants to be around/play with me." Ask the student: "what happened that made you think this?" or "what causes you to always think this?"
  • Help the student examine other perspectives

    The student says "I can't go to the school dance because everyone will notice that I'm nervous." Ask the student: "how would your best friend/someone you admire handle feeling nervous? What would your friend/hero do if feeling nervous at a dance?"
  • Provide the student with competing responses to negative thoughts or behaviors

    The student says "I'm afraid I'll do something embarrassing in front of my friends and my face will get bright red." Ask the student: "if you start to feel embarrassed, what can you? Can you go to the bathroom and put cold water on your face? Can you start to cough and pretend that the cough caused your face to get red? Can you focus on the dance step you want to do and count through the steps?" top

Behavioral Planning

  • Provide the student an exit strategy if he/she is overwhelmed in social situations

    Discuss ahead of time how the student can signal if he/she is feeling overwhelmed, needs to take a moment, or go to another place in or out of the classroom, with minimal attention or disruption.
  • Provide the student focal targets during social encounters

    "Check the other person's mouth or eyes during conversations, stand two tiles apart or arm's length apart, only say two things before you ask a peer a question". top
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