It is very common for young children to experience fears and sadness. However, when a child does not outgrow common fears or their worries start to interfere with school and daily life, they may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Many children can often feel anxious about starting a new school, a new sports team, or participating in activities with other children. These children may experience symptoms of panic disorder, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or have a phobia of a certain event or object.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), several things cause anxiety in children and symptoms to watch for include:
- Being afraid without their parents
- Having extreme fears of specific things
- Being afraid of school, crowds, or social setting
- Constantly worrying about the future
- Experiences intense and sudden panic
Anxiety in children is often associated with being afraid, scared, or nervous, but children might also experience anger or irritability. Physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, upset stomach, or dizziness may occur also.
Anxiety Strategies for Elementary Students
There is a wide array of strategies you can implement to help children in schools cope with their anxiety. Often, adults try to intervene when a child is experiencing anxiety by either removing or keeping the student away from their stressors. However, this isn’t always the best form of action. Something that causes student anxiety is often unavoidable, so shielding them from that thing doesn’t give the child exposure or practice to cope with their stressors.
Learning how to deal with their feelings of anxiety is important for young children. One anxiety strategy for children is to teach them how to slow down and steady their breathing. This will naturally calm the physical side effects of anxiety. Another strategy is having students take time to acknowledge their phobias and anxieties. Simply taking 10 to 15 minutes to write out what it is exactly that is making them worry can alleviate them of their anxieties for the rest of the day.
Children with anxiety disorders will often only focus on the negative and worst-case scenario which can cause a positive feedback loop of anxiety. Teaching students to focus on positive outcomes can help change these thinking patterns.
Behavioral Therapists in Schools
Behavior and School therapists can offer their assistance to these children by helping them to identify triggers, and establish healthy coping mechanisms when triggered. Therapists can use their time with children to establish affirmations and positive mental feedback that can help a child experiencing a panic attack or anxiety. These may be combined with out-of-school private therapy that a child may already be enrolled in. Therapists can suggest to parents changes in the child’s diet, meditation, and mindfulness or awareness activities that can help children to control their fight-or-flight response in situations that cause anxiousness.
Therapists can work with children and suggest to parents the use of affirmations in helping children with panic disorder or anxiety disorder. This can also be used to help children with obsessive-compulsive disorder to calm themselves during a routine. This sort of mental therapy, performed with parents at home can be a phrase that is soothing and calming to a child. It can also be an empowering phrase that can boost a child’s confidence in social situations, such as, “I am funny, and can make new friends laugh.” These phrases can give children a reduction in stress when faced with a social situation in which they may have previously felt uncomfortable.
Therapists can also suggest changes in a child’s diet that may help reduce anxiety. Eliminating unnecessary sugar and caffeine intake, such as energy drinks for teenagers, can help reduce anxiety. Some studies suggest that homeopathic and natural remedies may also help reduce feelings of anxiety or stress. Non-essential amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) can help to calm a child who is feeling anxious or stressed. Therapists can suggest that parents look into natural and homeopathic remedies as an alternative to traditional medication for anxiety-related disorders.
School therapists and psychologists can also speak with parents to help identify symptoms of anxiety, panic disorder, or another psychiatric problem that children may be experiencing. Symptoms of anxiety in children include restlessness and an inability to sleep, headaches or stomachaches, trouble in social situations, and avoidance of certain places or situations entirely. Older students will often avoid going out with friends, citing homework, or a variety of other reasons to be alone. They may become withdrawn or sullen and can express distress at having to participate in group projects or presentations in the classroom, as well. Though the symptoms of anxiety vary by disorder, school therapists and parents can work together to establish coping strategies and assess whether further treatment is needed for the child in question.
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