How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom

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In this brief guide, we will cover how you can help a child who has anxiety in the classroom. The techniques needed aren’t exhaustive but can be very useful if you have a classroom of students who need help with coping with their anxiety.

How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom?

“How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom?” is a question that most teachers ask themselves. Well, let’s start first by understanding what anxiety is. 

According to Goodbyeanxieyhellojoy.com, “anxiety is an illness impacting 32 percent of children, yet nearly 80 percent of those children do not receive any treatment.  Children with anxiety enter a fight or flight response when triggered. This response shuts down the frontal cortex (the area of the brain used for rational thought and decision making) and engages the amygdala (the area of the brain used for survival)”. 

How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom

There are many different kinds of anxiety that can manifest in the classroom, which is one of the reasons that makes it difficult to identify. According to the Child Mind Institute, children can struggle with:

  • Separation Anxiety
  • Social Anxiety
  • Selective mutism
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Specific phobias

But how to recognize the symptoms or signs of an anxious child? Well, here we name some of them:

  • Your student is inattentive and/or restless
  • Your student fails to come to class too often or is in constant need of talking/checking in with their parents
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Trouble answering questions in class
  • Your student has frequent trips to the nurse’s office
  • Problems understanding certain subjects
  • Not delivering their homework
  • Social withdrawal 

Here we will present some tips that can help you as a teacher to help a child with anxiety in the classroom.

Tip 1: Teach them how to breathe 

When people slow down their breathing, they slow down their brain’s functioning. If a child is feeling anxious in the classroom make sure they practice deep breathes and slow their breathing completely down. If you notice one of the kids is struggling to cope with anxiety in the classroom, try not to put them on the spot or taking them outside. Instead, you can do some breathing exercises in front of the whole class and engaging all of your students.

The key is slowing their breathing and taking deep breaths while slowly exhaling the air. Here is a useful article on how to practice mindfulness with belly breathing

Tip 2: Have them take a break from the class and go outside

If you see one of the kids in your classroom is struggling with anxiety, you can take the class and continue outside. Try to find an association between the topic you are teaching to something in the scenery outside. 

Being out of the normal classroom environment can help to calm an anxious brain. Sometimes just a change of scenery is what makes the difference. Breathing the cool air, or making time to notice chirping birds can also calm an over-active worrier.  Encourage them to observe their surroundings, to feel the sun in their skins, the breeze or how many forms can they see in the clouds. This can help distract them from their worries. 

How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom

Tip 3: Help them understand what anxiety is

Anxiety is part of our lives and it is a normal sensation so try not depicting anxiety as something they should definitely get rid of. However, many times they don’t know what they are feeling or why. Help them understand and name the feeling, trying to help them identify possible causes for their anxiety. 

The ultimate goal here is to manage their anxiety and not eliminate it, not removing the stressors from them or them away from the stressors but learning how to tolerate their anxiety.  Also, help them recognize the fears that are unrealistic and help them face those that are real such as the possibility of failing a test.

Express and communicate confidence that they are going to be ok and that they actually have the power to manage it. As they face their fears then the anxiety will be reduced over time. 

Tip 4: Get your students moving

Your class shouldn’t just be about copying from a whiteboard and asking questions. Try getting them to exercise or stretch a bit in between. It is widely known how exercise helps people who struggle with anxiety. 

With exercise comes the release of endorphins which are known to boost our mood and make us feel happy. You can set up a routine of a couple of easy exercises to get them moving, also you can alternate it with a game to motivate them to complete the exercises. 

Tip 5:  Try the walking and talking method

If there is a student that needs your attention more than the rest, try the walk and talk method. Talk to them while walking side by side looping around the playground area. This will serve 3 main purposes, it will distract them from the situation, they will have a chance to explain what is going on in their own words and it will get the blood pumping so their anxiety can be reduced significantly.

How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom

Tip 6: Spread the gratitude with a positive attitude

While your brain is busy creating positive thoughts stemming from gratitude, it is incapable of producing negative thoughts at the same time. If you can teach them how to trigger positive thoughts, in some cases you can distract them from their anxiety.

A great idea is to ask them to keep a “gratitude journal” and the idea is to “record at least one thing they were thankful for. When his students seemed overwhelmed by negativity or mired in anxiety, he’d encourage them to reread their journals.”, according to Elementary school teacher Karen Nelson, also Senior Editor at Weareteachers.com. 

Tip 7: Dedicate part of your class or create a space where kids can exteriorize their anxiety

Safe spaces can be described as a designated area where children can choose to go to calm down, take some time for themselves to think or just when they want to be left alone, they can also often be referred to as “cool-down spots” to encourage self emotional regulation.

According to Jill Kiedaish from Weareteachers.com, “many teachers will include glitter jars, headphones, books, or other items to help kids take a break and decompress. The key is to model it after what works for you and your classroom.”

Tip 8: Respect what they feel, acknowledge but don’t empower their anxiety

It is important to differentiate between validating and agreement. When you validate the child’s feelings and emotions you are acknowledging what they are feeling and avoid being judgemental or how they should feel. But, agreeing to it can actually feed their fear. 

The Child Mind Institute gives us a great example as follows:

“So if a child is terrified about going to the doctor because she’s due for a shot, you don’t want to belittle her fears, but you also don’t want to amplify them. You want to listen and be empathetic, help her understand what she’s anxious about, and encourage her to feel that she can face her fears. The message you want to send is, “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, and I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this.”

How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom

Why is this blog about “How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom” important?

Recognizing and being aware that a child in your classroom is feeling anxious can help us to do an early intervention in helping them and teaching certain techniques or strategies to manage their anxiety.

We have discussed what anxiety is, how to recognize it and many strategies so your children can stop struggling with anxiety and instead, understand and acknowledge it exists and how to tolerate and manage it. Also, remember it is important to listen and understand a child’s anxiety but we need to avoid feeding their anxiety and making it worse.

Please feel free to comment in the comments section below!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about “How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom”

Recommended reading

  • What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What-to-Do Guides for Kids) (What-to-Do Guides for Kids (R)) 
  • No Worries! Mindful Kids: An activity book for young people who sometimes feel anxious or stressed
  • Starving the Anxiety Gremlin for Children Aged 5-9: A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook on Anxiety Management (Gremlin and Thief CBT Workbooks)
  • CBT Toolbox for Children and Adolescents: Over 220 Worksheets & Exercises for Trauma, ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, Depression & Conduct Disorders
  • Don’t Worry, Be Happy: A Childs Guide to Overcoming Anxiety

References

Weareteachers.com

Childmind.org: How to cope 

Hertzfurniture.com

Childmind.org: classroom anxiety in children

References

Weareteachers.com

Childmind.org

Psycom.netHealthcentral.com

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How to help a child with anxiety in the classroom

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.