Teachers and parents want nothing more than to see their kids succeed. We spend countless hours preparing our children for adult life yet we often lose sight of the mounting pressure that kids have to cope with at home and at school. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety in children are two beasts that can manifest into a crippling condition.
Stress and anxiety go hand in hand. Anxiety is a state of worry about what might be—as compared to stress, which is a reaction to what is. Stress and anxiety increase when we’re in situations over which we have little or no control. Everyone encounters these “beasts” from time to time, but are fortunately able to use their coping skills to break through the worry and return them to their cage. For some, this boomerang effect lasts a few seconds, and for some, this could be more like a tornado–unpredictable in nature, spinning a path of destruction at every turn.
Stress and Anxiety in the Classroom
As a special education resource teacher, my students had daily encounters with stress and anxiety. By the time they entered my classroom door, they had been through years of repeated failure. Their progress had been agonizingly slow and frustrating, rendering them emotionally fragile and vulnerable. Some had been subjected to excessive pressures to succeed. Others had been continuously compared to siblings or classmates, making them embarrassed, cautious, and defensive. Hence, this left them stripped of any self-worth or confidence, which is like slamming a door in the face of learning.
Being aware of what bothers you instills confidence, and competence leads to success. When children are able to develop a sense of mastery over their environments (school, home, and social interactions), they develop a feeling of being in control of their own destiny. Control through competence is the best way to eradicate stress and anxiety, thus opening the door to all learning opportunities.
As we prepare our kids for adult life, we need to give them the keys and show them how to lock these “beasts” away when they get out. Getting out is inevitable, but locking them back up is not impossible.
KEYS TO LOCK UP STRESS AND ANXIETY IN CHILDREN
- Talk to kids honestly about the learning issues they face.
- Tell them what you see them experiencing and that there are others who face similar challenges. This sense of hope reduces the unknown, increases the feeling that they are safe, ensures that everything will be alright, and they are not alone.
- Tell them about their successes. They are not good at recognizing them on their own. They need to know when things are good!
- Teach specific calm-down strategies to use when the beasts get out ( deep breaths, count to ten, take a break and come back, squeeze fidgets, listen to calming music, allow them to move or stand at their desk, etc).
- Create a cool-down area in the classroom or at home to go to, if needed. Put comforting things in this area like soft pillows, blankets, music, scenic pictures or books–anything that will help them relax.
- Be very sensitive when giving corrective feedback. Do not be overly critical or let your emotions take control. Stay composed and calm. Do not provoke the beast when you want to tame him!
- Show them how to relax or calm down. Teachable moments are priceless. Use the techniques to calm down yourself. Why should they use them if you do not?
- Prepare in advance any change in routine, task, or unexpected event. For example, there are some students I would have to tell in advance if there was going to be a substitute teacher. I just assured them it would be okay if he/she did not do everything like I would do it. Be sure to tell them when you are coming back. Also, use a buddy teacher, someone they know and like (previous teacher, PE teacher, Speech teacher, Principal, etc) and tell the student they are there to help while you are out.
- Brain Breaks are excellent! Using physical activity breaks in the classroom helps children get ready to learn and remember information better. These are 2-3 minutes long and CAN really help them regain their focus and relaxation through movement. Plus, they are really fun! For more information please visit: http://www.actionforhealthykids.org/tools-for-schools/1252-brain-breaks-instant-recess-and-energizers
- Teach kids how to be metacognitive. They need to learn how they learn. Their brain is unique, not damaged. If they have ADHD, teach them about ADHD. Similarly, if they have Dyslexia, teach them about Dyslexia and if they have anxiety, teach them about anxiety. Give their issue(s) a name. Ultimately, this will hopefully help dispell the horrible myth that they are “stupid” and/or unworthy.
Kids are like clay. We need gentle, strong hands to mold them into the masterpiece they were meant to be! Stress and anxiety, if left untended, will weaken their stability, making it almost impossible to stand tall. Remember, we must show them how to TAME THE BEAST!
Samantha Brooks, MSE, Dyslexia Therapist
Samantha Brooks is an Intern Instructor at Brainspring Educator Academy.
Bring Brainspring Orton-Gillingham multisensory instruction to your classrooms, transforming struggling K-12 readers into skilled learners through our effective, evidence-based approach.
For more information please visit brainspring.com or call 1-8007323211.