Ten Tips For Anxious Students
Written by Michelle Brown

Managing emotions in the classroom is very challenging yet crucial because learning can only occur when we are calm, alert and focused.  Research has proven that the happier we are the more creative, productive and successful we are.  We also know that when we are stressed, worried or scared, our thinking brain stops working.

Some signs that a student is feeling anxious may include:

  • a racing heart
  • stomachaches
  • headaches
  • muscle tension
  • restlessness
  • feeling on edge
  • difficulty concentrating
  • zoning out
  • shutting down or avoiding
  • poor frustration tolerance.

Here are some easy strategies you can implement into your classroom:

  • Start with you.  Be mindful of your mood, tone of voice and facial expressions because your state is contagious with your students.  Once you are aware of your own emotional regulation, you can model self-regulation strategies with your students.  For example, you can be as direct as, “I am getting irritable because it is so noisy in here.  Therefore, I am going to turn on some relaxing music to help all of us, including myself, to remain calm.”
  • Develop the student’s awareness of their emotions.  This is such an important step!  Label the emotions you are seeing and then gradually get the student to label what they are feeling. Use the five-point scale, or equivalent, so the student has a visual representation. For example, “You look like you are getting frustrated.  Are you feeling like you are at a level 3?”  For each level of the five-point scale determine activities the student can do to return to a better state for learning.  For example, for a level 2, use a fidget; for a level 3, do deep breathing; for level 4, go for a walk/run around the school; for level 5, ask for help to calm down with someone you trust.
  • Breathe.  Deep breathing brings us into a relaxed state.  And it can be implemented anywhere without other people even knowing.  Enhance deep breathing by focusing on relaxing tension in the body or going to a happy memory or place while you breathe.
  • Move.  Physical activity and heavy muscle work calms our nervous system and puts us in a more relaxed state.
  • Colour or draw.  A quiet and creative activity can reduce stress and restore a more calm state.  Mandalas are great and can be downloaded for free off the Internet.
  • Showcase the student’s strengths.  Incorporate a variety of learning activities in the classroom including art, music, and technology. This creates self-worth and confidence.
  • Teach how thoughts, feelings and behaviour are all connected.  Label negative thoughts (eg: “stinky thoughts”) and how they change our feelings and result in our behaviour.  For example, when you ask a student to redo some super messy work, the student may have the thought “My teacher is mean!”  The feeling from that thought may be “I’m angry at her!” And the behaviour might be “stomping away, banging the chair into the desk, hitting his desk”.
  • Shift the focus.  Put the most emphasis on the learning process rather than the end product.
  • Vary up group work.  Change up groupings so students work with a range of classmates and a range of working styles.
  • Provide a helping hand.  Set the student up with a task that helps someone else.  This will take his/her mind off the worry/problem and will stir up feelings of satisfaction that result when we do something nice for someone else.

MindShift App (free)

Boys on Target by Barry MacDonald

Calm, Alert, and Learning by Stuart Shanker

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Courtesy photo by NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan

Action Plan:

1.      Begin to observe your own emotional states during your   teaching day.  Make note of what tends to calm and focus you and what tends to try your patience.

2.      Pick 2-3 strategies above and try them out with 1 or 2 students in your class.  See what happens.

Good luck!  And as always, be the hero you are meant to be!

Author: Michelle Brown
Michelle Brown is an occupational therapist and has been helping people since 1996.

You can find out more about Michelle Brown here: http://www.specialkidshero.com
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