How Teachers Can Help Students Navigate Anxiety

It’s not uncommon for students to experience a bit of anxiety at the start of a new school year. But what happens when the transition period has passed and you have a student who is still showing signs of anxiousness? At what point does the typical “back to school jitters” resemble more of a general anxiety in a student–and what can you do to help? Take a look at these suggestions for helping students thrive in your classroom!

Know the Signs

Before you can truly identify anxiety in a student, you have to know what to look for. To be clear: we don’t mean diagnosing your students, but rather being able to distinguish between a student who is truly dealing with anxiety and one who is simply disrespectful or just shy. For example, a student who is reserved and isolated could be struggling with feelings of anxiety. Another example is a student who constantly asks questions and expresses concerns often; these traits could indicate anxiousness in a student. Additionally, physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches can be an indication of an anxious student.

Communicate

If you notice a student is exhibiting common signs of anxiety, or if a parent reaches out to you to discuss their child’s anxiety, stay in communication! The best thing you can do is reassure the parent that their child is not getting lost in the hustle and bustle of your classroom and that you are conscious of the student’s needs. Parents want to know how you’re helping their child work through these feelings and will want updates on what seems to be working in class.

Make Yourself Available

While some students may not want to openly discuss their struggles, many do. Depending on their home life, you may be the one adult they can count on to listen and hear their fears, concerns and anxieties. For this reason, it’s important to make yourself available to your students and assure them that you’re there to listen and help in whatever way you can! Let them know that you understand the pressure that comes with being a student and always validate their feelings. Try your best to assure your students that you are trustworthy when it comes to their feelings and concerns, and be intentional about having one-on-one time with students you suspect may be battling anxiety. 

Be a Problem Solver

Students who are working through anxiety may need your assistance to learn coping mechanisms that work for them. You can help by suggesting ways they can combat feelings of anxiety. Coping strategies can look anything like journaling their thoughts to helping in the classroom, or even practicing breathing exercises and speaking with a counselor! Offering reasonable solutions shows your students that you care about their well being and have their best interest in mind.

Establish Routines

Having a set routine is helpful for students who struggle with anxiety. Whether you teach elementary school or high school, find ways to incorporate routines into your classroom to provide an extra layer of stability for students who need it.

Be Proactive & Stay Positive

In the same sense that you have control over the flow of your classroom, you also have the opportunity to set the tone of your class! Students are very in tune with how you feel based on your actions–even more so than your words. Whether you’re feeling high-strung and anxious or laid-back and positive, students are undoubtedly affected by their teacher’s mood. Be proactive against problems by setting a positive tone that puts your students at ease.

Be Aware of Transition Years

Kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade are typically the years that students transition into a new school, which means you are bound to have a student who is struggling with these changes. As teachers, it’s our job to be hypersensitive to our class, in order to recognize the traits of an anxious student during these transition years. By being aware beforehand, you may be able to determine which students will need a bit more time and attention in your classroom and can start thinking of ways to help them feel comfortable.

Explore External Stressors

It’s possible that a student’s anxiety is stemming from outside of the classroom and inside of their home. If you suspect that the issue is bigger than just typical stress, set up a time to speak with their parents or have your student meet with a school counselor to see if there is anything additional that you can assist with in order to succeed.

Praise the Good Behavior

Praising the little wins are an important part of showing your students that you’re there for them and that you care. If you work with younger children, this may look like praising their bravery on the playground. For older students, small acts like notes and comments go a long way to show that you are supportive of them–especially if that student is showing signs of anxiety. These genuine praises can be a boost of confidence that gives anxious students a sense of security in your classroom!

Anxiety impacts many students each year in a variety of ways. Understanding how to recognize the signs and knowing how to encourage your students can make a huge impact on their success in your class. When it comes down to it, we want every student to thrive and have an amazing year in your class, so knowing how to help them overcome anxiety is of the utmost importance!