Do you know an anxious child or teen? Chances are, you do. Luckily, there are things you can do to help students with anxiety.
Anxiety is on the rise in children and teens, with estimates between ⅕ and ⅓ of all kids ages 6-18 are suffering from some form of anxiety.2
Some speculate that anxiety merely is being diagnosed more often, but there are many reasons that kids could be facing more anxiety than ever.
If you watch the news on any given night, you’ll likely hear about tragedies, school shootings, and a variety of crimes. The 24-hour news cycle makes the world seem like a very unsafe place. In the past, school was a safe place, but now it can feel to students as if danger is around every corner.
Social media is another contributing factor in the rise in anxiety. 50 years ago, kids went to school, and at the end of the school day, they went home. Any problems at school were left there to be dealt with the next day. They would play with friends after school, but the bullies and bad influences were limited to school hours. Now with social media, kids can have contact with other kids 24/7. For kids that are bullied or going through a fight with a friend, they often don’t get the usual reprieve they would, and this can contribute to anxiety. In fact, many researchers see correlations between depression, anxiety, suicide, and social media use.1
Develop Grit: Check out these strategies to nourish grit in your students. Kids need to learn grit. They need to learn to handle the little things when they are young so they can handle the big things when they are older. Often ‘helicopter parents’ are afraid to let their kids fail. Failure is a part of life, so learning to navigate failure actually increases kids’ confidence and reduces anxiety.
Play outside: These days, many would agree that kids spend too much time inside and need to be out playing. Physical activity increases endorphins in the brain and can act as a kind of natural medicine for combatting anxiety.
Give kids a chance to talk it out. Kids with anxiety often have an onslaught of thoughts coming at them at a million miles an hour. They need someone to talk to. Encourage them to talk to you. Writing about their feelings can be helpful for students as well. Give students a journal that they can write about their anxiety for you, the teacher, to read, or just for themselves.
When working with kids with anxiety, realize that anxiety is unique to each person it affects. It’s important not to take a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather to have a bag of tricks. Encourage students to figure out what works for them.
Some skills that are frequently useful include:
Meditation: YouTube has many free videos that guide students through meditating. Meditation can teach kids to take control of their thoughts and slow down their thought processes.
Guided Imagery: Kids are naturally good at imagining (much better than adults!). Teach them to use their imagination to calm their anxiety. They can use guided imagery to get themselves through a difficult situation, to imagine a peaceful place, or other exercises to help take control of their anxiety.
Anxiety is a growing issue, but teachers can be on the front lines of taking control of this ever-increasing problem. We can help teach students to handle this challenging problem and overcome it to function well through the rest of their lives.
1. MacMillan, Amanda. “Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health.” Time, Time, 25 May 2017, time.com/4793331/instagram-social-media-mental-health/.
2. Nutt, Amy Ellis. “Why Kids and Teens May Face Far More Anxiety These Days.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 10 May 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/05/10/why-kids-and-teens-may-face-far-more-anxiety-these-days/?utm_term=.52dfc01205fa.
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.