Anxiety is defined as a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, sometimes accompanied by compulsive behaviour or panic attacks. It’s a fairly common mental health struggle that many live with on a daily basis. Unfortunately, children are no exception and can experience anxiety to varying degrees. Discover tips to understanding childhood anxiety, how it relates to the classroom and what teachers can do to help.

Anxiety in the Classroom
Children often present with anxiety at school, though they manifest and deal with it differently than adults. This is primarily because they have a harder time identifying the causes of their anxiety and are still developing their ability to communicate their feelings.

The most common reasons children may feel anxious at school are social and academic pressures. Every student deals with these in different ways. Their general temperament is a major factor, as some tend towards nervousness and anxiety more than others.

Christine Helmer, who has been an elementary school teacher for over 16 years, adds that anxiety can also be a learned behaviour. “A family member who is anxious themselves may unintentionally be serving as a model to dealing with stress or uncomfortable situations,” she explains.

In addition, anxiety can be brought on by acute or chronic trauma, such as abuse, poverty, malnutrition, attachment issues and neglect, to name a few. Helmer says she has witnessed this firsthand over the years.

How Does Anxiety Manifest Itself in the Classroom?
Sometimes anxiety is easy to identify. For example, a student who feels nervous before a test or presentation may withdraw, complain of an upset stomach, pick at their nails or chew on their pencil.

However, anxiety in the classroom can also present itself in a more pronounced way. The child may demonstrate anger or disruptive behaviour, isolate him or herself, be subject to obsessive compulsions, be restless and inattentive, or even exhibit ADHD or symptoms of a learning disorder.

While a little bit of stress can sometimes motivate students to work harder, anxiety and the desire to succeed should not affect every aspect of a child’s life. Educators are encouraged to speak to the parents of children who show signs of anxiety disorders and to strongly recommend a comprehensive evaluation for that child. Once educators understand the root cause, they can adjust their teaching methods with the children and work together to help them deal with their anxiety in a healthy way.

Strategies to Reduce Anxiety
Luckily, anxiety in the classroom can be manageable. Helmer adds that educators can focus on being proactive by cultivating a classroom environment that is calm, organized and supportive. Here are a few strategies educators can implement in order to reduce student anxiety:

· Incorporate quiet time: Short guided meditations or deep-breathing exercises can help students recalibrate and feel less overwhelmed.

· Get children moving: Physical exercise and movement can help reduce anxiety. Educators can make their own exercise routines or search for classroom exercise ideas online.

· Gratitude journals: Students can write about things and people they are grateful for. This helps fosters a positive mindset.

· Use emotional programs: Educators can explore emotional programs such as the Zones of Regulation, where students learn how to consciously regulate their actions.

· Speak to children individually: If a specific student demonstrates anxiety, the educator can start a dialogue to acknowledge and validate their feelings and determine the best plan of action.