Did you know that approximately 9.2% of children have anxiety? This is a 27% increase from years before 2016 (Lebrun-Harris, 2022).
What does this mean for you as a school counselor or classroom teacher? In a school of 500 students, there will be around 50 students experiencing anxiety. This is NOT a number that educators can overlook. Helping kids cope with anxiety must be a top priority!
What Does Anxiety Look Like in Elementary-Aged Children?
Children experience worries, fears, and nervousness just like adults. These thoughts and feelings can be about common things like speaking in front of others or specific fears like spiders. Some fears are school related like test-taking.
Anxiety becomes a problem for elementary-aged children when it begins to inhibit pieces or all of their daily life. It’s important to take a comprehensive look at a child’s life and discuss various signs of anxiety in different settings with classroom teachers and caregivers when concerns are present.
Common Signs of Anxiety
Anxiety can be shown through inward or outward physical and behavioral signs. When experiencing this level of anxiety, it can negatively impact a child’s ability to take part and thrive in school.
*It is important to note that most children exhibit some of these signs from time to time, but children with anxiety show these signs repetitively or in a pattern.
Common Triggers for Anxiety in Children
For some children, their anxiety isn’t present all of the time. It can be triggered by certain situations that happened in the past, are occurring presently, or may be upcoming.
Being able to identify a child’s personal trigger(s) for anxious thoughts is helpful for learning how to take a personalized approach in managing anxiety.
How to Help Students Deal with Anxiety
Make Classrooms a Safe Space
Create safe environments for children in the classroom and at school. Be intentional with the tone of your voice when speaking to students. Use group activities to foster positive peer interactions. Intentionally let students know they are not alone in their worries!
Construct a safe zone in classrooms or your office with books, art, music, and calming sensory opportunities for children to use when feelings of worry and fear begin to creep in.
Teach Coping Skills
Coping skills are ways a child manages their feelings in stressful situations. As each child in your school or classroom is unique, their specific coping strategies will be unique too!
By teaching and modeling a wide variety of coping skills (or an “anxiety toolbox” as I like to call it), you are putting the power back into your students’ hands. They can confidently know that they are capable of managing their anxiety and it does not control them.
5 Categories of Coping Skills:
- Physical Activity
- Connecting with Others
- Mindset Shifts
- Instant Calming
- Creative Outlets
- Move to calming music
- Stretch slowly
- Build with blocks
Connecting with Others
- Talk to a trusted adult
- Cuddle with a favorite pet
- Ask for help
- Think of a funny memory
- Say one thing you’re grateful for
- Focus on the present
- Take deep breaths
- Count to 10
- Blow real or pretend bubbles
- Journal about your feelings
- Play with kinetic sand or play dough
I use my Anxiety Lap Book to support students who struggle with anxiety, nervousness, and worry. With this resource, students explore their feelings, identify their anxious triggers, and practice coping skills. Students also learn how anxiety looks and feels in their body and practice a grounding exercise.
Make this material interactive by using hook-and-loop fastener dots and file folders. It becomes easy to store and use for small groups or individual anxiety counseling sessions.
Another favorite resource to use with anxious children is this Anxiety Journal. This hands-on workbook-style journal includes cut-and-paste writing and reflective and instructional activities for students to work through as they practice identifying their triggers and coping strategies. It’s a great starting point for many anxious students who are unsure about opening up.
Empowering students through anxiety is such an important job! Leave a comment below and tell me about your go-to activity to use with children experiencing anxiety at school.
Lebrun-Harris LA, Ghandour RM, Kogan MD, Warren MD. Five-Year Trends in US Children’s Health and Well-being, 2016-2020. JAMA Pediatr. 2022;176(7):e220056. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.0056
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