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Classroom Management to Address Student Anxiety

Janelle Cox

When a child doesn’t want to go to school in the morning, it’s not only tough on the child, but it’s tough on the parents too. No one wants to send their child off to school for the day when they’re crying, that’s why it’s so important for teachers to take the time to use classroom management to address any type of student anxiety. As a teacher, when you address this issue head on, you’re not only helping to reduce any fear or anxiety the student may have, but you’re also helping the students’ family. As an individual who has had anxiety both as a child and an adult, as well as had to deal with two children who have had it, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I only wish I had a teacher who had taken the time to help me when I was a child. According to experts, about 10-20 percent of school-aged children experience anxiety symptoms, while about 2-5 percent of children refuse to go to school. While anxiety may not be happening to the majority of your students, it’s still happing to some of them. Luckily, there are a few ways that you can help to reduce a child’s anxiety. Here are a few classroom management suggestions.

Use Classroom Management to Have Students Focus on the Positive

Oftentimes, anxious students focus on the negatives: “I won’t do good on my test” or “My friends are mad at me.” This glass-half-empty mentality can have a real impact on their mood and behavior. Have students try and focus on the positive aspect of their life. Teach them how to “Turn it around,” and instead of saying to themselves that they won’t do well on their test, have them say, “I studied hard, so I’ll do good on my test” or “If I try hard, I’ll do just fine on my test.” Teaching students to change their mindset to be more positive, and can help them in every aspect of their life.

Teach Stress-Reduction Techniques

It’s normal for students to feel some sort of anxiety, especially before a big test. To help students relieve some of this anxiety, teach them a few stress-reduction techniques. For example, you can teach students that if they take a couple deep breaths before or during a test, it can help reduce stress. Another stress-relieving technique is to have students meditate. They can do this anytime they are feeling anxious throughout the day. Teach them to sit still and imagine they are in a comfortable, relaxing place. Once they are settled into their seats, they can slow-breathe in to a count of five and out for another count of five. If they do this for several breaths, it will calm their nerves and help them regain focus and be calm.

Encourage a Nightly Sleep Routine

Sleep is a huge factor when it comes to an anxious student. If a child isn’t getting enough sleep at night, it really impacts their emotional state. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, sleep deprivation can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Talk with the student and their parents and encourage a nightly sleep schedule. Have the child start their routine about 45 minutes before they go to sleep. They can turn off all electronics, take a bath or shower, read a book, then go to bed. Make sure they are getting enough sleep as well. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that children ages 6-13 years old should have between 9-11 hours per night, while teens aged 14-17 should get 8-10 hours, and young adults ages 18-25 should get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

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Decrease Stressful Triggers

A good way to help an anxious student is to try and decrease any stressful triggers they may have. For example, if you know that a student gets anxious when everyone gets done before them during a test, then you can have them take a test in another classroom. Anyway to take the student out of the stressful situation before it even occurs will help the child.

Use Distraction

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, children who have anxiety are irritable, tired, have headaches, refuse to go to school, have separation anxiety, and may be defiant. If you notice a child who has any of these symptoms, find an activity that will distract them. For example, put them in charge of something or give them a classroom job, have them read a book, listen to quiet music, or any other activity to help alleviate any of the physical symptoms. Once you notice a positive change in their demeanor, then can return to normal class activities.

Remember, your goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety from the child, but to help them manage it. The best way to help a child is to remove any stress that can trigger their anxiety. You can also teach them stress-reduction techniques so they can learn to function as best as they can when they’re feeling anxious. In time, their anxiety will slowly decrease.

Do you have any classroom management tips or techniques that work well for your anxious students? Please share with us in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you on this topic.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.