Anxiety at School
Four Strategies to Help Students Cope
I want my students to understand the importance of keeping their whole bodies healthy. That makes sense, right? Healthy eating, getting enough sleep (PLEASE!), exercise…. But what often gets forgotten is mental health. To help students cope with anxiety at school it is important for them to understand what they are feeling, why they are feeling it, and how to deal with it. Teaching about this can start at any age, and here are some practical ideas strategies.
Strategy One: Pre-Teach Feelings
The brain is a fascinating thing, and students LOVE to learn about how the brain works. Plus, the kids enjoy being able to throw big words around the classroom (and impress their parents at the dinner table). The Kindergarten teacher at school started the year by teaching her kids about how the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala work together. In simple terms, the prefrontal cortex is the decision maker, and when we are angry, frustrated, upset, etc., the amygdala is the switch that turns off the prefrontal cortex. Thus, the brain is unable to make good decisions. When kids understand why they are feeling upset, they can begin to problem solve. (Some more kid-friendly explanations can be found here.)
Strategy Two: Create a Calming Tool Box
Teaching students strategies for how to deal with their emotions can be simple and effective. Some kids just need to hug a stuffed animal. Some kids need to read a book for a while, to help distract themselves. Some kids need something visual to watch. For example, this brain jar:
Students shake the jar and watch the sparkles swirl around, and then sink to the bottom. This is such a simple tool to make. You just need a mason jar, water and some pretty sparkles. Some websites say to use gel or glue mixed in with the sparkles, but I found that just using water was easiest. It’s amazing how this helps to calm students.
I have all of these 'tools' in my classroom Calming Tool Box. This is just a white tupperware bin. My class knows that that they can go to this bin to get a “tool” when they need to calm their brain down.
Strategy Three: Create a Safe Space for Feelings
Who enjoys being sad, upset or angry in front of other people? I know that I do not. Creating a safe place for emotions is an awesome idea for the classroom so that students have a place to go when they are feeling upset. This is a place where students can calm themselves down and then come back when they are ready. For some classrooms, you may have a corner for students to do this, or a more private cloakroom area. In other classrooms, like mine, the most practical location might be in the hallway, just outside the door. This is an area where you can put a stool or a chair, and a Calming Tool Box.
Strategy Four: Teach Students About Whole Body Health
Sometimes students need to be explicitly taught what to do when they are feeling anxious and upset. Purposeful lessons on mental health, including how to ‘calm down’ when you are feeling overwhelmed can go a long way towards helping your students cope independently. In my classroom we have been learning how our physical and mental health work together to make our whole bodies healthy!
We brainstormed situations that made us anxious and different ways we could calm down. (Points for the student who wanted to use a Hot Tub!)
We researched healthy eating ideas and ways that we could help our bodies feel calm in stressful situations.
Combining physical and mental health into one uni helped my students to see that it is important to take care of their bodies and their minds.
Students made these fun lapbooks that showcased their learning!
Our Whole Body Health lapbook tied together all we had learned! (Check it out here !)
The whole unit can be found in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, or by clicking HERE.
Now I want to know about you! We are heading into testing season in Canada and the US, (and abroad?) which can be an anxious time for many students. What are your best strategies for helping to calm anxious students, and for giving them the tools to calm on their own?