Tips for Teachers to Support Students with School Anxiety

Elizabeth Spencer

School anxiety can show up in a variety of ways, with avoidance being a common coping mechanism for many anxious students. It makes sense! Anxiety feels bad, and avoidance brings relief from anxiety in the moment. However, avoidance behaviors can hinder a student’s academic progress, social interactions, and ironically end up exacerbating their anxiety. As a teacher, it is crucial to recognize and address avoidance effectively to support students with school anxiety. We know many teachers want to help anxious students but are overwhelmed by all the responsibilities in a classroom.

Here are six practical tips for teachers to help students to manage their anxiety, embrace challenges, and reach their full potential in the classroom.

1. Recognize the Signs of Avoidance:

Become familiar with the signs of avoidance in students. These may include reluctance to participate in class activities, tardiness or frequent absences, being shy, frequently requesting to leave the classroom, or expressing fear or discomfort when faced with certain tasks or situations. Awareness of these signs will enable you to intervene promptly and provide appropriate support.

2. Encourage Gradual Exposure to Triggering Situations:

Help students gradually confront their fears and overcome avoidance through gradual exposure to triggers like asking a question in class or giving an oral report. Break down tasks or situations that trigger anxiety into smaller, manageable steps. Encourage students to start with less challenging aspects and gradually work their way up to more demanding tasks. This gradual exposure helps students learn that they can handle anxiety-provoking situations.

3. Create a Supportive Plan:

Collaborate with the student, their parents, and any support services available to develop an individualized plan that addresses their specific anxiety and avoidance patterns. This is especially important if a student is missing school or has fallen behind academically. This plan can include temporary accommodations to support the student academically while they learn to manage anxiety. Regularly review and adjust the plan as necessary.

4. Teach Students to Be Brave:

School is, first and foremost, a learning environment, and any time students are learning, some tasks are harder for some than others. Everyone needs to be able to handle challenges, and school offers a great opportunity to be brave when facing challenges as well as to accept that sometimes they will not do well. Celebrate when a student takes a risk even if they are not correct, model ways that you and other adults are brave, and provide opportunities for them to demonstrate bravery in the classroom.

5. Encourage Peer Support and Understanding:

Foster a classroom environment that promotes peer support and understanding and normalizes anxiety. Educate the class about anxiety and its impact on students. Encourage empathy and discourage judgment or teasing. Peer support can play a significant role in reducing avoidance and creating a positive social experience for students with school anxiety.

6. Celebrate Progress and Effort:

Recognize and celebrate students’ progress and efforts in facing challenges and being brave. Highlight their achievements and growth, no matter how small. This positive reinforcement grows their self-confidence and motivates them to continue working towards managing their anxiety and overcoming avoidance.

The environment can be daunting for any student. However, for students with anxiety, it can feel insurmountable. This is why it’s up to the professionals at every level of the school district to work towards building an environment that helps students with anxiety thrive. Schools seeking support in this endeavor can benefit from Anxiety Training’s three-pronged strategy which encourages teachers, staff, parents, and students to be acquainted with the same principles, as well as language, for helping children facing anxieties.

This cohesive strategy empowers the school environment to promote the anxious paradox: making progress despite apprehension, facing fear through communication, and becoming comfortable in the presence of unease are all paths to reshape our perception of fear.

Learn more about this training here and begin crafting a plan that will support an empowering school year for everyone.

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