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27 Feb 2024

Five action points to address pupil anxiety

Five action points to address pupil anxiety

If a child says, “this week’s maths homework is difficult”, they may need some additional support but there is likely little cause of concern.

Not so if their response is, “the maths homework is always impossible I can never do it”. This is catastrophising – a red flag that might indicate their day-to-day worries are spiralling into anxiety.

The impact of student anxiety is far reaching. It can isolate children, sap their confidence and prevent them from enjoying school or making progress.

But these five strategies can be used in school to improve outcomes by helping children better understand and manage anxiety.

1. Recognise triggers

Any situation can trigger anxiety, from parental separation to bullying or difficult schoolwork. Encourage children to talk about what sparks their anxiety to help them identify the triggers.

They could create a personalised House of Worries, a template where they write or draw the things which make them anxious. This visual approach can make it easier for pupils to express their fears and is the first step to developing effective coping strategies.  

2. Empower pupils

With a little encouragement and practice, students can identify coping strategies and respond to anxiety in the way that works best for them.  

Activities such as breathing exercises or taking a walk outside can help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Physical techniques such as scrunching toes is also effective for regulating emotions.

Some students respond well to grounding techniques too, such as Five Senses, where they acknowledge the sights, feelings, sounds, smells and tastes around them.

3. Set expectations

Give children control over an anxious situation by helping them see what to expect at each stage.

For example, if they are anxious about a school trip, run through the agenda with them and explain exactly what they need to bring in advance. It’s also good to prepare them for unexpected changes such as the café being closed by helping them think through a plan B.

4. Encourage empathy

Sometimes anxiety can stem from difficulties within a child’s friendship groups. Schools can help here by encouraging all children to think about how their actions affect others.

Ask a class ‘how would you feel if someone said you couldn’t sit next to them at lunch or if you weren’t included in a game?’ This helps pupils to put themselves in the shoes of others. Teachers can demonstrate their own empathy too by not playing down a child’s feelings, so avoid phrases like ‘It’s not the end of the world’ when classmates fall out.

5. Strengthen home-school links

Maintain strong links with families and encourage parents to work closely with you to help their child overcome their anxieties. Building relationships with parents on a whole school basis through workshops, information evenings and face-to-face events is particularly effective for addressing emotionally based school avoidance and will help get their child back to school.

Rachel Bostwick is senior partnership and enterprise consultant at Carnegie School of Education, part of Leeds Beckett University. Read the ‘How to tackle student anxiety’ report for more strategies to address the issue in school.




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