In 2020, 12% of children ages 3 to 17 in the United States were reported as having experienced anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, the most unfortunate part is that most of them will never receive proper support, which means they’re left to handle these overwhelming feelings on their own. And as any teacher or counselor knows, kids aren’t particularly good at regulating their emotions yet. For this reason, it’s crucial to take an active role in addressing your students’ ongoing mental health concerns.
Let’s look at how you can create a calm, supportive environment that reduces classroom anxiety.
1. Design or Create a Coping Toolbox
To reduce classroom anxiety, the coping strategies differ from one person to the other, and they’re not always about deep breathing. Nevertheless, a coping toolbox can be a way of helping students discover strategies that can help them deal with classroom anxiety. For instance, one student might need a walk down the hall to calm down, while another may need to be reassured.
Create a safe space where students can “hide” when they need to reduce classroom anxiety symptoms. First, of course, it’s essential to establish some ground rules for the use of the space, including setting a time limit.
2. Reducing Fear of Failure
The fear of failure can be paralyzing, leading to procrastination, student disengagement, and even truancy. Ideally, teachers, counselors, and parents should work together to reframe the idea of success. This way, students can recognize their improvements, strengths, and hard work.
Ultimately, the goal should be to remove students’ anxiety about asking for help in class. Approaching this goal takes time, requiring you to be sensitive and regularly check in with your students.
3. Teach Competence
Unfortunately, shielding students from stressors won’t cure anxiety. In most cases, anxiety isn’t about the stressor itself but rather a student’s feelings of helplessness. You want your students to feel competent and develop the emotional strength to sit with uncomfortable feelings and situations. What’s more, when students realize that they can persevere through obstacles and solve challenges on their own, they get to build their confidence and independence.
4. Refer Students for Additional Help
Some students may require support beyond a school counselor’s capabilities. It’s imperative to refer such students to experienced mental health professionals. Students with more severe symptoms may receive a medical diagnosis, allowing them to qualify for an individualized education program (IEP). This requires working with parents and guardians to find the most appropriate way to support the students.
Once again, we need to reduce classroom anxiety; it is an inevitable reality that should no longer be avoided. Remind students that nervousness, worry, or fear is not shameful. On the contrary, these emotions are an integral part of being human. That said, there are many ways to create a classroom that supports anxious students. The key is recognizing that anxiety reveals itself in many different ways, and coping strategies must be individualized.