As a teacher, teaching assistant or mental health lead, you know that every pupil is unique and special. Some children are confident and eager to learn, while others are more hesitant, withdrawn and in some cases anxious.

Anxiety is a common issue facing many children in today's fast-paced world and has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns. Recent surveys (1) tell us as many as one in six children and young people are struggling with mental health-related issues anxiety being one of the most common.

As an educator, you can play a vital role in helping children with anxiety to succeed in school. In this blog post, we will discuss practical strategies to support children with anxiety in your classroom.

What is Anxiety in Children?

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be experienced by anyone, including children. It is normal for children to experience anxiety at some point in their lives. However, when anxiety starts to affect their daily lives, such as their school work and socialising with peers, it can become an issue.

Children who feel anxious may find it difficult to learn, make friends, or engage in new experiences. Anxiety can also cause pupils to avoid schoolwork or miss days of school, which can seriously hinder their academic achievement. As teachers, mental health leads or headteachers, it's essential to understand how anxiety can affect children, their learning, and how to help them overcome it.

The Impact of Anxiety on Learning

Anxiety can seriously affect a child's ability to learn effectively. When a child is anxious, their attention span may shorten, and their working memory may be impaired. Additionally, anxiety can make it difficult for children to take risks, speak up in class, or complete tasks that they perceive as difficult.

Anxiety can also cause children to avoid school or certain subjects, leading to a significant loss in academic progress. Moreover, anxiety can lead to absenteeism, causing pupils to miss out on important learning experiences and social development.

8 Tips for Teachers and How to Help Anxious Pupils

As teachers, several strategies can be employed to help anxious students in the classroom. When teaching, it’s crucial to create a safe, supportive, and inclusive classroom environment. You can also help pupils by role modelling and asking open questions that encourage pupils to openly discuss their fears or worries and demonstrate that it's okay to make mistakes.

It’s also essential to offer reassurance to children with anxiety. Teachers can provide them with positive feedback and remind them of their strengths.  

Here are eight practical ways to help children with anxiety in the classroom.

Build a Positive Relationship with the Child

Building a positive relationship with your students can help them feel more at ease in your classroom. Try to connect with them on a personal level and show interest in their lives. You can even use positive reinforcement and strengths-based feedback to encourage their efforts and achievements. When children with anxiety feel listened to, validated, and supported, they may be more likely to open up and share their real concerns.

Build Positive Classroom Relationships Amongst Peers

Positive peer-to-peer interactions can be one of the best ways to support children with anxiety. A friendly face and welcoming smile from peers in the classroom can help children feel safe which can contribute to them reducing levels of anxiety. While other children who have undertaken some training such as our Wellbeing Ambassadors programme can act as positive role models that can help other children regulate and reduce anxiety levels, this helps stop the escalation of anxiety before it builds.


Create a Safe and Calm Learning Environment

Anxiety can make it difficult for children to concentrate and participate in class. To create a calm and safe learning environment, you can use calming colours, lighting, and sounds, many classrooms have a calming corner or area children can go to calm down and regulate their anxiety levels. You can also encourage children to take deep breaths or stretch during class to relieve anxiety and promote relaxation. Reducing stress and increasing comfort helps children develop their confidence, which can improve their learning and participation.

Teach Coping Strategies

As a teacher, it is essential to teach children coping strategies that can help them manage their anxiety. Children with anxiety can benefit from learning various relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness and visualization. These techniques can help them reduce stress, calm their minds, and improve focus. You can take time to teach these techniques as a classroom activity or encourage children to practice them at home regularly or in peer groups.  

Our Free Wellbeing Activities leaflet has several evidence-based wellbeing strategies to use with children in the classroom.

Encourage Self-Expression

Encouraging children to share their thoughts and feelings is crucial in helping them manage anxiety. As a teacher, create opportunities for children to talk about their feelings and thoughts. This can be done through group discussions or one-on-one sessions. You can also encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings through art, music or journaling. More anxious children may need to work with a trained member of staff outside of the classroom to help them understand and reduce levels of anxiety.  Join our Discovery Workshop to find out practical ways you can support children with anxiety at school.

Encourage Physical Activity and Time in Nature

Physical activity can have a significant impact on reducing anxiety. As a teacher, you can encourage children to engage in physical activity and spend time in nature. Outdoor activities, such as sports, hiking, and other physical activities, are a great way to reduce anxiety and improve physical health. Make sure all children can participate, even if they are less athletic, by offering alternatives and adapting activities to support all children.

Develop Clear Expectations

Children with anxiety benefit from having clear expectations, routines, and schedules. You can achieve this by creating a predictable and structured classroom environment where they know what is expected of them. Providing clear guidelines for behaviour, academic work, and implementation of consequences will help them feel more at ease and reduce potential triggers.

Collaborate with Parents and Professionals

Supportive collaboration is important when helping children with anxiety. Collaborate with parents, mental health professionals, school nurses and other teachers to understand the child’s triggers and fears, liaising with professionals is one of the key roles of the school mental health lead. If necessary, work with the school psychologist, mental health lead, or other resources to create a plan that works for the child. Join our Discovery Workshop to find out practical ways you can support children with anxiety at school.

Final Tips on Supporting Children with Anxiety at School

Children with anxiety can face challenges in school, but with your support, you can help them achieve their full potential. By building positive relationships, creating a safe and calm learning environment, teaching relaxation techniques, encouraging physical activity and working with school practitioners and parents, you can support children with anxiety to overcome their difficulties and succeed in life. Remember, every small effort you make can have a positive impact on the children, helping them feel supported, validated and motivated to succeed.

Access our Free Wellbeing Activities leaflet has several evidence-based wellbeing strategies to use with children in the classroom.

Join our Discovery Workshop with guest Expert and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist Ted Bradshaw to find out practical ways you can understand and help children with anxiety at school.

If you are looking for a range of practical resources to support children with anxiety and prevent mental health problems access our Wellbeing Resource Toolkit.

References

1. Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2020: NHS digital, 22 October 2020.


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