By Gigi Ward
Anxiety disorders affect millions of children each year, ranging from children experiencing panic attacks to disorders such as “school refusal” anxiety.
According to recent statistics, 31.9% of adolescents, aged 13-18 in the US currently struggles with anxiety, around 7% of Australian children experiencing some type of anxiety disorder, 4.4% of 11-16 years old in the UK also having some kind of anxiety disorder, which is why it is imperative to tackle early signs and symptoms of anxiety in schoolchildren.
As a teacher, understanding children who experience anxiety in school while providing support and helping them to manage feelings of fear and panic are essential.
Common Causes of Anxiety in Schoolchildren
Children experience anxiety for a variety of reasons, often stemming from change, the fear of failure, or the fear of being unable to connect with their peers. Because each child is likely to experience anxiety for different reasons, it is important to hone on in each student individually to learn which tools and anxiety-relief methods are most suitable.
1. Practice Breathing Exercises
Anxiety is drastically increased when individuals are unable to breathe properly or find themselves with shallow and rapid breathing. Help your students calm themselves by setting aside time each day for traditional and deep-breathing exercises.
If you are able to set time aside for meditation during the school day. Even meditating for as little as 5-10 minutes each day has a significant positive effect on individuals who struggle with focus, anxiety, or panic attacks. Meditation is powerful and does not require special positions or being alone. Group meditation among peers also allows them to disconnect from technology while offering a time of day which is quiet and balanced.
2. Speak to the Parents of Your Children Who Are Experiencing Anxiety
Speak to the parents of your students who are experiencing anxiety to gain valuable insight into the root causes or issues that may trigger anxiety or panic attacks in the classroom. Inquire about possible anxiety at home and how anxiety manifests in each of your individual students to discover more regarding methods that are best for each child you have in your class. Kids can successfully manage anxiety with help and support from parents, which is why it is essential to speak to parental figures when working towards supporting students with anxiety in your school.
3. Speak Directly to Your Students Individually
There are many types of anxiety disorders in kids ranging from GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) to panic attack disorder. Without understanding how children truly feel, it can be difficult to provide the right solutions or supports. Speak directly to each of the children in your class who are experiencing anxiety individually to learn more about how they feel and when anxiety worsens for them.
4. Create Codes and Signals for Anxiety-Ridden Children
Create codes and signals for your students to use whenever they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed in the classroom. Use simple signs such as tugging at the ear, rubbing their noses, or even holding up a sign you provide them. Providing codewords or signals to your students with anxiety is extremely useful when you are unsure of how the children in your class feel throughout lessons. Take note of the individual behaviour of each of your students who experience anxiety to determine what triggers may increase their feelings of anxiety throughout each school day.
Provide gratitude journals for each of your students to write each day. Encourage sharing positive thoughts and happy feelings in the journals to boost moods while distracting students from feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Share positive or funny stories from your everyday life to create a sense of warmth and comfort for your entire classroom during journaling times. Allow your children to decorate their gratitude journals in a unique and individual way to showcase their personality while providing them with a sense of belonging among their peers.
6. Spend Time Outdoors
Feeling cooped up and stuck inside all day can quickly lead to feeling anxious or experiencing a panic attack. If possible, spend time with your students outdoors by reading books or exploring nature. Encourage nature walks during recess and share lessons about bugs, insects, and nature itself with your students who have anxiety. Feeling at ease and relaxed outdoors is helpful to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety when cramped in classrooms throughout most of the day.
7. Help Kids Eat Healthy and Stay Well
Indubitably, a healthy diet and plenty of sleep makes a difference in students overall health and emotional wellbeing. It also makes a difference in how well a student can handle overwhelming situations they may face each day. Try to consider the type of food and snacks your students are consuming regularly. Are your students eating properly in general? It’s true that for the most part teachers don’t really have a control over what students eat at home and how much they sleep.
But, if you have meals with your students in class, use the time to talk about healthy food choices. You can talk about how food and rest hours can affect one’s physical health and emotional health, or even squeeze it into the curriculum.
8. Share Stories in the Classroom
Sharing stories in the classroom is another way to connect with all of your students while also allowing them to feel more comfortable in the space with you. Encourage positivity through storytelling and provide incentives to students who wish to participate and share their own stories. Promote silly and wholesome storytelling to keep your students feeling positive and happy rather than sad, anxious, or fearful of their surroundings.
9. Squeeze in Some Art and Craft Activities
Create activities in the classroom that involve drawing, painting, colouring, using playdough and creating something with their hands. Arts and crafts are great for learners of all ages. There are plenty of benefits to arts and crafts for kids. Most importantly, art and crafts allow children to express themselves and give that soothing and calming effects or even meditative effect they need. Engaging in arts and craft activities in general can also alleviate stress levels and reduce anxiety. Art education is essential, and as a teacher, you should encourage students to learn about arts and help them get a hands-on experience.
10. Accommodate Students to Assist With Their Individual Needs
Not all students experience anxiety in the same way. While some students may have anxiety before a presentation, others may feel overwhelmed when taking a test in front of their peers. Provide proper accommodations for all of your students to ensure they are comfortable while test-taking, speaking, and even participating in physical education in front of others. Speak to your students individually to learn more about what additional anxiety-reducing methods can be integrated into their daily routines to reduce their feelings of panic and fear.
When you take the time with helping students with anxiety in school, create a classroom that is comfortable and considered a safe space for students. Learning how to help students with anxiety as a teacher is extremely fulfilling and helps to create a more productive and happy environment for all.
Gigi Wara is an inspired writer who loves writing about language and acquisition, career and personal improvement. This article about how to support students who have anxiety in school comes courtesy of Kids Helpline, Australia’s only free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.