Helping Anxious Kids in the Classroom

Following are some tips and pointers to consider when you are dealing with an anxious child in your classroom.  These were compiled from http://www.worrywisekids.org/ and http://special-needs.families.com/blog/.

*Anxious children do better in classrooms that are calm, supportive and organized

*The child’s teacher must be educated about the child’s specific disorder.  As parents, meet with your child’s teacher to talk about your child, as well as to provide information about things you are doing at home that work.  Kids always do better in school when there is a team approach!

*Classroom seating should be away from classmates who are loud or misbehave; anxious children not only are afraid that they will get in trouble, but also need to be free of distractions so they can focus on their work.

*Anxious kids are often concerned about getting directions wrong either because of distraction or not understanding the directions.  Signaling the class before directions are given (flashing the lights, clasping hands, etc.), as well as writing directions on the board, or on the student’s paper, will help anxious children.

*Class participation is a concern for any anxious child because of fear of getting things wrong, saying something embarrassing, or having other kids look at them.  Set up a signal between you and the child to know when his/her turn is coming (i.e. tell them you won’t call on them unless you’re standing beside them); allow the child to share information on topics of most comfort; determine what kind of questions the child is most comfortable with (i.e. yes or no; opinion questions; reading vocabulary definitions, etc).

*Children with extreme social anxiety may not be able to handle class presentations.  Give the child the option of presenting just to the teacher, or audio/video taping the presentation at home.

*For a child with anxiety, answering a question on the board may be overwhelming because of the fear of getting something wrong, or being in front of the whole class. Don’t ask the child to go to the board until he/she is ready, or unless they are guaranteed to get the right answer (i.e. day of the week; month, etc.)

*Tests are very problematic for an anxious child.  They need extended time to help relieve pressure on themselves; have them begin the test in the room with the rest of the children, then come in after school or at recess to finish it.  Rephrase any questions that are confusing to them.  Consider the use of word banks, or in the case of multiple choice questions, cross out all but the right and one wrong answer for the child.

* “Everyone makes mistakes” should be a class motto.  School should be a safe place where kids don’t feel threatened by the need to be academically perfect.  Competitions involving tests and homework should be avoided.

*Have an “escape route” or safe person at school who understands the child’s disorder and needs.  If the child becomes overwhelmed, there should be a safe place where he/she can go until nerves have calmed down.  Also, allow a “cool-down pass” so the child can leave a pressure situation.  An example of this would be for the child to place a colored card on his or the teacher’s desk, signaling that he/she needs a break.  In general, anxious children are very honest, and are not likely to take advantage of this.

*Look for triggers.  If the child becomes anxious in certain situations, times and circumstances should be noted so the situation can be changed if necessary. 

*If kids are spending too much time on homework because of checking, rechecking, redoing, or worrying that the assignment wasn’t done well enough, there may need to be a reduction in homework.  Make sure just enough problems are given for the student to show understanding of the material.  Teachers can also give time estimates for assignments, so that the anxious child can attempt to stay within the suggested time (within about 10%).  For a child with writing difficulties, allow a peer, parent or other helper to be a scribe.

*Field trips can compound the feelings of an already anxious child.  Consider having this child in the teacher’s group, or have parents come along as chaperones until the child is ready to handle situations without this support in place.

*Lunchroom and recess, while providing much needed rest and activity, can cause fears of rejection in anxious kids.  Try to form small groups of kids, and “lunch bunches” of 2-3 kids so they can create shared experiences.  Don’t always allow children to choose their own group.

*While fire and safety drills are necessary to provide safety, they can often cause more anxiety in already anxious children, because they fear something is really happening.  If there is an opportunity, signal the child that a drill will be taking place, and that alarms may be sounding.

*Anxious children try very hard to please, and predict what is required in a given situation.  If there is going to be a change in routine or a substitute teacher send a note home the day before so the family can tell the child about the changes.  This helps the child have time to process the change, and helps things go more smoothly.

*When anxious children are absent from school, they may be very distressed about the work they have missed.  Assign a study buddy to copy notes and share handouts.  If tests are given the day they return, allow them to take the test at another time, and use test time to make up work.

*Some children become anxious in crowds, so assemblies and large group activities may cause stress.  Allow the child to sit where he/she feels most comfortable (i.e., back of auditorium, close to teacher, etc.)

*Keep tabs on medications.    “Appropriate school personnel should understand what medications are being dispensed to the child, and the dosage.  Any signs of bizarre behavior or symptoms which could be related to medication should be brought to the attention of parents immediately.  Dosage changes should be reported to the school and teacher as soon as possible, so they can make observations and be in close contact with parents if anything goes wrong” (special-needs.families.com)