Essentials: The Invisible Struggle - Recognising Social Anxiety As A Trigger For Classroom Behaviour

Essentials: The Invisible Struggle - Recognising Social Anxiety As A Trigger For Classroom Behaviour

Listen now:


Understanding the reasons why certain pupils appear unresponsive to our behaviour strategies can sometimes be challenging. Learning to look for underlying difficulties is essential in order to prevent behaviours from continuing or even increasing.

In this Essentials Episode we dive into the world of social anxiety, offering guidance on how to recognise the signs, fostering empathy, and implementing supportive measures to enhance overall classroom well-being.

Important links:

Click here to hear all of episode 29.

Get our FREE SEND Behaviour Handbook:

Download other FREE behaviour resources for use in school:

Share this podcast with your friends:

Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

Understanding the reasons why certain pupils appear unresponsive to our behaviour strategies can sometimes be challenging. Learning to look for underlying difficulties is essential in order to prevent behaviours from continuing or even increasing. Join us today to discover one possible cause that could unlock behaviour success for students in your classroom.

 Welcome to the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton. And we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course students. When classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural Special Needs whole school strategy and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the School Behaviour Secrets podcast.

 Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome as we pop the cork from another fizzing bottle of an Essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets, don't let those bubbles go to your head! We're going to share with you some key strategies from an earlier episode that you can use in your classroom to have an immediate impact on the students that you are working with. But before we unleash the bubbles, I would like to remind you that if you've enjoyed listening today, please remember to subscribe to the podcast, so you never miss another episode, we begin the show partway through episode number 29, where my co host Emma and I consider three overlooked factors that can cause challenging behaviours and undermine the success of the support strategies you're using in your classroom. And the focus we're going to pick up on today is social anxiety. 

Okay, let's move on to issue number two, which is social anxiety. So while many kids are outgoing and love social interaction, they enjoy meeting their friends and playing on the playground and the hustle and bustle of the classroom. Others find it difficult to fit in and suffer from a kind of mild social anxiety. So I'm not thinking here about the crippling social anxiety, which is obvious, which you often see in kids with autism, the sort of social anxiety that can go under the radar, the kids that are uncomfortable, the kids that are an easy being in a social environment, but don't have these big outbursts or meltdowns that are big and obvious that indicate there is an underlying problem.

Emma Shackleton  2:31  

And what that actually means is that in school, there are a number of children who are constantly experiencing a state of stress, maybe they feel like they don't know what to say, or they're worried about how they fit in, or they feel socially awkward. So they're worried about getting things wrong. Some children even see school as a frightening, even hostile environment. And that triggers off their stress response on a day to day basis.

Simon Currigan  2:59  

So that means that you might feel under attack in school, and then they never get a chance to relax. They're moving towards that fight flight or freeze response. They never quite get there. But they're experiencing big buildups in stress chemicals, like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. And the effect of those chemicals on the body is that they find it hard to concentrate and focus on their work, they might feel overwhelmed. And that leads to difficulty with emotional regulation, they might become highly emotional, you might see them crying or refusing. And you might see them become slightly more inflexible. When we feel stressed, we tend to want to take control of our environment. And we become inflexible, we want to make choices about how things are done for ourselves. It's only when we're calm, that we tend to be more flexible and happy to attempt things in different ways and take other people's opinions and go with the flow more. So although we're not seeing kids necessarily having meltdowns, there are all sorts of side effects about having big amounts of these stress chemicals in your body. 

Emma Shackleton  3:59  

And some of those are quite visible as well, so children develop their own coping strategies for the way that they're feeling. So that could be something along sensory lines, so maybe they're the kids who are tapping or fiddling and twirling with their hair or constantly moving, some children feel the need to escape so they might leave the classroom or leave the learning area. Or they might mentally escape if you like. They might daydream or tune out for a little while because it's all a little bit too much to be in the moment. Some children as well might be verbally or physically aggressive towards others and you'll often see behaviours like refusals, as Simon's already talked about, it's hard to relax and follow directions when you feel in that stress state and many of these children are seeking lots and lots of adult attention. So they might follow the teacher around they might call out for the teacher they might learn behaviours that they know will guarantee them some attention or some connection with the adults, this can make it really difficult for them to form close friendships. And don't forget having that friendship network is a protective emotional factor. We need our friends around us, we need people that we can relate to, to feel okay in ourselves. So when we feel socially awkward like this, it's actually a barrier to building those friendships. 

Simon Currigan  5:28  

So one way of seeing whether this is affecting a child in your classroom is to look at how they interact in different contexts. So you might look at how they interact in the whole class, you might look at how they interact in a small group taken out of class. Do they look more confident? Do they look calmer, in a smaller group of children? Or sometimes you might look at how they are one to one with either an adult or someone, they trust one of their trusted peers on the playground, look how they interact during PE, if they look calmer when surrounded by fewer children, if they appear to be relaxed, and more flexible, than that could be a sign that anxiety might be driving their behaviour. And remember, some kids will cope with that anxiety by actually going under the radar, one way of coping with stress is to hide. And you might have a child who's just going to very quietly sitting at the back of the room not meeting their potential and engaging in lessons, because actually, their behaviour and their ability to cope has been locked down by that mild social anxiety. 

Emma Shackleton  6:28  

Those kids are the ones that are hard to spot, actually, aren't they they're the ones that we often describe as acting in rather than acting out. And in a busy classroom environment, it is easy for those children to get lost. So what's the solution then for us? Well, instead of focusing on the children's behaviours, try to look at building strategies that help them understand social groups. So we're trying to build their skills in interacting with their peers. And we can do this through devices like social stories, or Comic Strip Conversations. And it's important that we rehearse situations. So we can role play we can demonstrate how to ask to join in a game, for example, what to do if other children say no, what to do if somebody joins your game and then doesn't follow the rules? We can preempt all those little social difficulties and practice them when the children are feeling calm. And then afterwards, when the situation arises in real time, the theory is that they'll then be able to apply those skills that they've already rehearsed. To make that social interaction run a little bit more smoothly, we can also practice positive regulation strategies, we can do this ahead of stressful situations. So when they are fairly calm, that's the time to talk about what to do in social situations that make them feel anxious, and build in some strategies for them to be able to cope. And that might mean spending some time in and out of the classroom with them. The other key thing to remember is just because we don't find the social environment stressful, that doesn't mean the same is true for your students. So it's important to listen and to observe our pupils to find out where the hotspots are, where the pinch points are, so that we can help them through those difficult social interactions.

Simon Currigan  8:27  

And that was just part of my discussion with Emma, where we were considering the role of social anxiety as a driver for classroom behaviour, and what strategies we can put in place to support pupils who are experiencing it. To discover the other two commonly overlooked drivers of challenging student behaviour, head back to the original episode 29. To find out more, it's full of helpful hints and strategies and it's well worth a listen. I'll put a link at the bottom of the episode description. If you found today's episode helpful. Please take a moment to rate and review us It takes just 30 seconds and when you do, it prompts the algorithm to recommend School Behaviour Secrets to other listeners. And that helps us grow the podcast and reach other teachers, school leaders and parents that need this information. Thanks for listening today and I look forward to seeing you next time on School Behaviour Secrets

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)