How to Support Students with Anxiety in the Classroom.

Support Students with Anxiety

Supporting students with anxiety can be daunting.

With the rates of anxiety and depression rising within young children it is important that adults in young peoples lives are well equipped and prepared to deal with such issues in a calming and supportive way. 

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Table of Contents

Hidden Signs of Anxiety

Anxiety can show up in many different ways and it is important to know the signs when a student is acting differently.

Here a 8 signs that anxiety can show up as something else:

  1. Anger- The perception of danger, stress or opposition is enough to trigger the fight/flight response leaving students angry and without a way to communicate.
  2. Difficulty sleeping/tiredness– In children having difficulty falling to sleep or staying asleep is one of the hallmark characteristics of anxiety. 
  3. Defiance– Unable to communicate what is really going on it is easy to interpret the student’s defiance as a lack of discipline instead of an attempt to control the situation where they feel anxious and helpless. 
  4. Chandeliering – Chandeliering is when a seemingly calm student “flies off the handle” for no reason. They have pushed hurt and anxiety so deep for so long that a seemingly innocent comment or event suddenly sends them straight through the chandelier. 
  5. Lack of focus Students with anxiety are often so caught up in their own thoughts that they do not pay attention to what is going on around them. This can affect school work and focus on the lesson. 
  6. Avoidance– Students who are trying to avoid a particular person, place or task often end up experiencing more of whatever it is there are trying to avoid.  
  7. Negativity– People with anxiety tend to experience negative thoughts at a much greater intensity that positive ones. In terms of the classroom this could be thinking negatively about speaking out, presenting or working with others in fear of failure and disappointment etc. 
  8. Overplanning– Overplanning and defiance go hand-in-hand in their root cause. Where anxiety can cause some students to try and take back control through defiant behaviour, it can cause others to over plan for situations where planning is minimal or unnecessary. 

Helping a Student Manage Anxiety

wellbeing resource-PSHE

None of us want to see a child unhappy, but the best way to help young people isn’t always to remove the stressors that trigger anxiety. This can be detrimental as they may think that their anxiety stops them from doing certain things.

Learning to adapt to their anxiety and function as well as they can, even when they are anxious is crucial for young people to move forward and develop.

  • Reassure them that you understand- when things become overwhelming and scary/stressful suggest to come up with a plan about certain activities or situations, this can put their mind at ease.
  • “Practice simple relaxation techniques with your students, such as taking 3 deep, slow breaths, breathing in for a count of 3 and out for 3.
  • Use the “Calming Down Star” down below to initiate breathing techniques with young people.
Click image to download

You’ll find more guidance for helping children with anxiety on the Young Minds website & NHS

Positive but Realistic Expectations

You can’t promise that a student’s fears are unrealistic- they won’t fail a test, they won’t like their new substitute teacher or another child won’t laugh at them during a presentation.

But, you can express that confidence in these times is key to being okay and managing these negative thoughts.  

Encourage your students to face their fears when it comes to anxiety with a little mantra it can be something small that they chant over and over or a something that rhymes and they make a song about it. In turn this should give them a little more confidence to turn their expectations of things into positive and realistic ones. 

Respect their Feelings

When it comes to students with anxiety it’s important to reinforce that validation doesn’t always mean agreement. So, if a student is terrified of presenting in front of the class, you don’t want to belittle their fears but, you also don’t want to amplify them. 

Listen and be empathetic, help the student understand what they are anxious about and encourage them to face their fears. 

  • The message you want to send when supporting students with anxiety is that “ I know you are scared and that’s okay but there is people here to help and you will get through this!”. 
wellbeing resource-PSHE

Think things through Together

When supporting students with anxiety, talking through the students’ problems and worries together can be beneficial. It’s important that the student is reassured that their is no immediate danger or negative situation going to take place.

When talking things through together these questions may help to ask:

  • What is the worries you have?
  • And if they come true, what can we do?

Putting a plan in place with the student can help them know someone is their for them, when things go wrong and they have direction on what to do, this will hopefully make them feel less helpless.

Use the worksheet down below to help a student with their own anxiety action plan!  

Role Model

By seeing how well you cope with anxiety yourself can help a student. Young people are like sponges and soak up as much information as possible. Seeing how you deal with your own anxiety, a child may not feel as intimidated by their own worries as they see that people can persevere.

Here are some helpful links to help manage your own anxiety (if needed).

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