When children exhibit signs of anxiety, even the most dedicated teachers can feel a sense of frustration. By ignoring the issue or trying to protect the child from dealing with anxiety, this can unfortunately increase a student's anxiety. Thankfully, there are some steps that teaches can take when helping children with anxiety.
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Model healthy ways of dealing with anxiety One of the most effective teachers can take when learning how to help students with anxiety is to show them how you deal with anxiety yourself. When genuine issues come up, let the children see how you handle it and they'll pick up cues from how you deal with the issue and learn to apply this to their own situation.
Don't try to eliminate the anxiety, only help the child manage it When a teacher is helping a child with anxiety at school, one of the best methods is to help the student learn to function well when their anxiety gets triggered. Don't go out of your way to minimize triggers but allow them to happen organically. Over time, anxiety will reduce as the child develops methods for managing it.
Use positivity in a realistic way It would be counterproductive to promise a child that his or her anxiety is unrealistic but you can tell your student that they will be okay, do well when dealing with the trigger and that, in time, their anxiety levels will begin to subside.
Respect anxiety but don't empower it Psychologists will tell you that validation is not the same thing as agreement. If your student is highly anxious about an event, you definitely don't want to minimise or belittle her feelings. The key is to listen and be empathetic and then encourage your student to feel confident that they can successfully deal with these fears.
Try not to ask leading questions Children should feel free to express their feelings openly but you don't want to solicit feelings of anxiety. If you know a student has certain triggers, don't mention them. If you're trying to gauge their anxiety level, ask open ended questions and wait for the child to express how they feel.
Do your best not to amplify their fears If you know your student is fearful or anxious about a certain event or experience, it is highly counterproductive to do or say anything that might lead the student to believe that there is a legitimate reason to fear that event or experience. Watch your tone of voice and body language to make sure that you don't amplify your student's anxiety.
Keep the run-up time as short as possible When you know that your student has anxiety about a particular event or experience, such as taking a test, do your best to keep the anticipatory period as short as possible. The more that a student thinks about a trigger in advance of it coming to pass, the higher their anxiety level is likely to be.
Talk the anxiety through to its conclusion Sometimes it can really help to talk an anxiety about a certain trigger all the way through to its conclusion. If you have a student who is anxious about a certain thing, ask them what they would do should their fears come to pass. Work with them to play out the scenario, gently guiding the child to arrive at their own solutions for how they would deal with their fears should the event that they fear come to pass.
Encourage toleration and management of anxiety When you know one of your students is dealing with anxiety, take time out to tell them that you understand how difficult it is to manage anxiety in order for them to accomplish their educational goals. Feel free to tell them that everyone experiences anxiety from time to time and that eventually those overwhelming feelings will reduce to a manageable level with experience.
Don't avoid triggers When you know one of your students is going to have a lot of anxiety about a certain event or experience in the school setting, it can be tempting to go out of your way to eliminate these triggers. Unfortunately, avoiding triggers ultimately leads to reinforcing and even escalation of the student's anxiety. The best way for your student to manage their anxiety is to have the tools and encouragement from you to handle that anxiety.
Although it can be challenging for teachers when helping children with anxiety, the key is teachers need to be resilient, patience, firmness and doing your best to serve as a role model will eventually help guide the student to learning how to successfully manage their anxiety.
Author Note: My sincere thanks goes to Point to Point Education, the leader in matching qualified teachers with exciting overseas teaching opportunities, who provided me information and the possibility to complete this article.