Over the past few years, the number of students who experience mental health issues has significantly increased. Even before the pandemic, according to JAMA Pediatrics, the rate of child and adolescent anxiety grew 27% between 2016 and 2019. A diagnosis of anxiety was made for more than 5.6 million young people by 2020.
One of the most crippling issues children encounter in the classroom today is anxiety, which can manifest as symptoms like difficulty concentrating, stomach distress, or insomnia. Similar to other learning disabilities, anxiety can have an impact on student performance in the classroom.
Children who experience anxiety do not do so on purpose. When there is anxiety, the nervous system responds automatically (which often stems from fight-flight-freeze reflexes). Therefore, sayings like "just relax" or "calm down" are useless and even harmful. Children may learn to calm their racing thoughts with practice and support from adults.
Ten Ways to Help Children with Anxiety
There are many ways you can help support a child with anxiety. Below are just a few of those ways.
1. Have an Open Mind
Anxiety can look different depending on the child and the situation. Sometimes it can be easily detectable. Other times it can come in forms that look very different from what is expected of anxiety, making it difficult to spot in the classroom. One thing that is consistent with anxiety is that it locks up the brain, making schooling challenging for students struggling with anxiety.
In order to support children with anxiety, you first need to know the many different ways anxiety can present itself. Below is a list of possibilities to for which to look:
- Disruptive behavior
- Frequently absent
- Homesick or missing parents
- Not participating in class
- Not turning in assignments
- Visits the nurse frequently
- Difficulty breathing
- Becoming fatigued quickly
- Frequent stomach aches or headaches
2. Become an Expert on Anxiety
Being knowledgeable about anxiety is one of the best things you can do to be able to help children with anxiety. Learn what anxiety is, what are the causes of anxiety, and what are the different types of anxiety.
- Anxiety is a feeling of irrational tension, worry, or fear that manifests as either physical or emotional symptoms.
- Anxiety is typically caused by trauma, genetics, hormones, or social incidents.
- The most common types of anxiety are: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Selective Mutism, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Phobias.
3. Create Standards
You must explain expectations to your kids right away. All children need structure and an understanding of expectations, but those who struggle with anxiety especially do. These should outline not just what is expected of the student, but also what they can expect from you.
The likelihood of anxiety-inducing scenarios occurring is decreased by being aware of what is coming up, what behaviors are expected from them, how you will convey positive and constructive criticism, and even something as basic as where to turn in papers. As the year progresses, remind them of your expectations, and after breaks, reestablish them.
4. Create a Safe Environment
Schools play a crucial role in aiding kids in managing their anxiety by fostering environments where all students feel supported, cared for, and part of something bigger than themselves. Be sure you create an environment where kids feel safe to be themselves.
Lead with empathy whenever you speak with students. Assure them that you support them and that they won't get into trouble for appearing to be unhappy, anxious, or displaying any other negative emotions. Include them in the planning of the solutions by asking them for ideas. You don't have to find a solution right away; you might ask them to consider it, acknowledge that you will as well, and schedule a future conversation.
5. Build Relationships with Your Students
Strong relationships and connections with young people can help to safeguard their mental health. Students can benefit from these protective ties that schools and parents can foster as they help them develop into healthy adults.
6. Practice Deep Breathing
Deep belly breathing provides oxygen to the brain and allows you to destress. Start and end your day with deep breathing exercises. Also, as you see students get anxious or fidgety throughout the day, stop and lead the entire class in some deep breathing exercises to help reduce stress and refocus the students.
7. Take a Break
When you notice anxiety building in students, stop what you are doing and take a break. Have the students stand up and shake the wiggles out or better yet, take your students outside and let them run around a bit so they can get fresh air, vitamin d, and get some exercise.
8. Use Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is believed to help stimulate specific brain receptors, potentially reducing anxiety. Natural scents like lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood may be incredibly calming, whether they are present in a candle, essential oil, or incense. Before introducing a scent to the class as a whole, ask your students if they have any allergies.
9. Show Children How to Spot Their Warning Indicators
Anxiety affects each person differently. Children may exhibit symptoms such as shortness of breath, stomach aches, or difficulty focusing or relaxing.
Students who have been taught to identify their individual triggers and warning signs can better understand when to step back. Include social-emotional learning techniques every day to teach students how to control their anxieties.
10. Provide Accommodations
Accommodations can be a game-changer for students. Many students have performance anxiety, particularly before tests. Simply put, a student's brain cannot work as well while they are anxious.
We can make tests and assignments less stressful for anxious students, which will likely improve their performance. For example, young people who have test anxiety could benefit from extra time and cue sheets.
Ignite Achievement Academy
Our mission at Ignite Achievement Academy is to help students with learning barriers and special needs, including autism and ADHD, achieve academic and social success. Schedule a tour today to learn more about our services and how we will help your child receive the skills and support needed to thrive.