Over the past couple of years, a common theme I hear from teachers is that children today are dealing with more anxiety than ever before, and more children than ever are showing signs of anxiety in the classroom. This post will give you information about what anxiety might look like at school and give you some ways to help your students deal with anxious thoughts they might have.
What It Looks Like
When students are anxious at school, this anxiety can take on several forms. Some of these behaviors can look like other things such as ADD, but all are signs of anxiety as well.
· Restlessness and fidgeting
· Shutting down, not talking
· Not participating in class
· Physical complaints (think “clinic frequent flyer”)
· Acting out
· Constant questioning and need for reassurance
Students may exhibit one of these symptoms or several. All of them can have an effect on a child’s ability to fully participate in and enjoy school. When students’ minds are overwhelmed with anxious thoughts, the amount of brain power they have to devote to learning is greatly diminished. Additionally, anxiety can have a negative effect on a student’s relationships with his or her peers.
What You Can Do To Help
The good news is, there are many things that teachers can do to help the students in their classroom deal with their anxiety. One of the most important things that teachers can do is to be patient and understanding when their students are struggling with anxious thoughts. Students who have anxiety are not exhibiting these behaviors on purpose to annoy you. Think of their behaviors as a call for help, but the student is too overwhelmed to use words. Here are some other strategies you can use with your anxious kiddos:
· Acknowledge their anxiety. Saying things like, “You’ll be fine” or “That’s nothing to worry about” will not make your anxious student feel better. Instead tell them you notice that they seem anxious and ask if something is bothering them. Then, listen to them. If you have a student who frequently tells you their worries, it is okay to give them a time limit as to how long they can tell you about them. “I’m going to listen to your worries for 3 minutes.”
· For frequent worries, give your student a plan or go over the plan that is in place. Worried about storms? Remind your student that they are safe inside, and that the school safety specialists have a plan to keep them safe if bad weather happens. Do not force students to confront their triggers. That is something best left to a trained professional. Our job is to help students know that we have plans to keep them safe.
· Help students who are stuck in anxious thoughts. At our house, we call this getting stuck in a thinking trap. Tell the student that they are stuck in a thinking trap, and they need to get out of it. The following are ways to help with that.
· Distraction can be a great tool. Is there a particular job that your anxious student likes to do? Ask them to do that for you. Let them take a 5 minute reading break. Have them take a note to the office. Focusing on a task can help break the thinking trap.
· Arrange for your student to be able to take a break if needed. A trip to the drinking fountain might provide just the mental break for them. If your student is uncomfortable asking verbally, let them use a break card to ask for their break.
· Remind them of calming strategies they know. Encourage deep breaths and take some deep breaths with them. Have fidgets available that they can use. Allow some time for drawing.
· If your student is seeing a therapist, ask for suggestions specific to that child for ways to support them in the classroom. Make sure you go through the parents to do this, as schools need a release of information on file to communicate with health care providers.
· Have a safe person for that student to talk with, usually the school counselor. Generally speaking, school counselors are great with anxious students.
· Model what you want them to do. Show your students productive ways to deal with stress and unforeseen events. Talk about what you are doing to get through it.
There are many good resources available for dealing with anxious kids. One of my favorites, 13 Helpful Phrases You Can Say to Calm an Anxious Child, can be found here, from Lemon Lime Adventures. Helping our anxious students manage their anxiety is something we can do that can have lasting effects, long after these kiddos leave our classrooms.