School can be a stressful place for kids, both socially and academically. Anxious minds can stand in the way of students fulfilling their potential. Teachers are on the front line when it comes to helping students mitigate their fears and stresses, and with the right tools and strategies, they can get anxious students back on track.
Common Classroom Anxieties
Anxiety in the classroom is fairly normal, and knowing the common types is necessary for helping students cope. Some typical issues that could trigger anxiety include:
Being Accepted by Classmates
Classrooms are their own unique social communities, and when students struggle to fit in with their peers, it can lead to anxiety. Being picked last for teams and having nowhere to sit in the lunchroom can have a serious impact on students.
How Others Perceive Them
Some students particularly worry about school performance and fear being seen as “too smart” or “too dumb.” These students aren’t likely to participate in lessons, and they may also refuse to do homework or other activities.
Students with separation anxiety excessively worry about leaving their parents, often to the point of classroom disruption. This anxiety tends to be present most commonly in younger students and is often seen during drop-offs and throughout the early part of the day.
Although classrooms can’t always prepare for all phobias, it’s beneficial to be aware of common ones. Everyday things like classroom pets and thunderstorms can cause some students to panic.
Identifying Student Anxiety
The signs of student anxiety aren’t always easy to spot and can sometimes be misidentified. It’s important for teachers to remember that only medical professionals can diagnose students, but the teacher’s role is to look for “red flags.” Some of these flags may be:
If school triggers anxiety in students, they’ll try to avoid it. They may feign an illness or flat-out refuse to go. Once at school, they may also routinely ask to go to the bathroom or to the nurse’s office.
Similar to excessive absences, anxious students may complain of headaches, stomachaches, nausea, heart palpitations, light-headedness or other physical ailments brought on by excessive stress.
Outbursts or Disruptive Behavior
Anxious students may ask frequent and repetitive questions, talk out of turn or become restless. Anxiety caused by bullying or peer pressure may cause one student to lash out at another.
Avoiding Being Called on in Class
Often, students who don’t raise their hands in class do so because they don’t know the answer. Some students, though, avoid volunteering because they fear judgment from their classmates, or they have stage fright and can’t handle the attention on them.
Students with anxiety may develop a compulsion around failure and perfectionism. They tend to default to “all-or-nothing” thinking or “catastrophic” thinking (a single mistake will ruin everything). Teachers may hear these students using phrases like “I always screw up” or “nothing is ever right.”
Reducing Student Anxiety
With practice, kids can learn to slow down their anxious brains, and teachers can help them. Here are some activities that may ease anxious students in the classroom.
Take it Outside
Sometimes a change of scenery is all students need to ease their minds. When the entire class goes out for a break, everyone can benefit, and no student is singled out.
Walk and Talk
Pull the student aside and ask what’s bothering him or her. As a bonus, a bit of exercise can increase endorphins.
Make it Positive
It’s difficult to be anxious when writing about positive things. Have students keep a gratitude journal to write in whenever anxiety or unhappiness strikes.
Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing helps students mitigate the physical reactions of stress.
One-on-one meetings with students who have anxiety are particularly critical when handing out praise or criticism, either of which has the potential to cause embarrassment.
Set up Accommodations
For older students, ADA testing accommodations can make all the difference. Children with anxiety are likely to perform better in school when given the proper tools, such as extended time and cue sheets.