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Anxiety in the classroom

Anxiety Joe Morgan

Like everything, the existing school system has positive and negative aspects. It enables students to gain at least a basic education at a capacity that a one on one teaching structure simply wouldn’t be capable of. It also allows us to keep track of what’s being taught to children. This is important, ensuring that any teacher who firmly believes, for example, that iguanas are secretly alien spies, can’t teach this to their students.

But there’s no denying that school can be a stressful experience for children. You have to adapt to a new environment, as well as deal with the pressure to do well in your studies. And that’s without considering the conflicts that can arise between all the children growing up and learning how to behave. All of this can be challenging to even the most self-assured of children, even more so if you struggle with anxiety.

Like many mental health issues, anxiety comes with some complications when it comes to getting the help it needs. The major one is that, since they aren’t visible, it can be very easy for others to overlook or dismiss a person’s struggles. Another is that it is very easy for an unqualified person to misdiagnose what the issue is because many mental health issues have overlapping symptoms. This is further complicated by the fact that there are different types of anxiety people can be suffering from. However, behaviours which can indicate problems with anxiety include inattention and restlessness, poor attendance and clingy behaviour, being disruptive or having trouble answering in class.

However, moving on from the challenges of identifying it, what do you do as a teacher when you have young students who struggle with anxiety? Well, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are not trying to ‘fix’ them. The thing about mental health issues is that they can’t be solved externally. There is no combination of actions you can take that will have any benefit without their own input. And, to emphasize, direct therapy should be left to professionals. But, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to help. After all, what is a teacher if not an adult with the time and authority to make children do things? Besides, as anxiety can have an impact on a student’s learning, a teacher needs to have some understanding of how to approach it. This becomes especially relevant when the focus of a student’s anxiety is a particular subject.

This is why you should put together, or find, activities which help children learn healthy coping mechanisms and ways of thinking. For example, one of the key steps to handling your anxiety is figuring out what you’re anxious about. To those of you less prone to anxiety, this might sound like an odd thing to say. However, it is not exactly uncommon to feel anxiety for something you haven’t consciously acknowledged yet. Activities which help you identify what’s bothering you are a very useful step in this regard. Of course, the reverse is also useful, because anxiety tends to very easily spiral out of control if you just focus on the negative. Because of this, activities which help remind them of the different things which are under their control are very reassuring. After all, central to most forms of anxiety is the feeling of a lack of control. And you can combine these two approaches, by teaching them to think of ways of turning negatives into positives; which is always a useful mindset to learn.

As I said, you shouldn’t engage in this with the attitude of trying to ‘fix’ your anxious student; nor can anyone reasonably expect you to. Ultimately, your student mastering their anxiety requires the same role from you as them mastering their education. Namely, to support and encourage them, while giving them the tools to do it themselves.

anxious student Joe Morgan

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The author

Joseph Morgan is a Content Executive for Twinkl; an educational resources company. Before joining Twinkl, he worked in the care sector as a support worker for St Cuthbert’s Care.

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