Headstart for Life

How can we help children having anxiety in the classroom?

Welcome back to a brand new year of our HeadStart for Life blog, Beyond Therapy!

It’s that time of the year again! Christmas and New Year celebrations behind us and it’s time to embrace the year ahead. Which means, parents have to start preparing for the beginning of new school term. As a parent, it’s always easy to assume that life continues as per normal once school starts. Back to the same routine. For a child however, especially those who have difficulty coping with the expectations put on them, it can be quite stressful, causing anxiety as the days approach. Therefore, parents need to be alert on how your child is anticipating the start of school, especially for kids transiting from kindergarten to Primary 1 and young adults transiting from primary to secondary school.

A new environment, the need to make new friends and adjust to new teachers can be quite daunting especially for younger children. Their inability to express their concerns verbally causes them to resort to using overt physical expressions that can be mild or extreme depending on the depth of the emotion. Children spend most of their day in school and have less opportunity to speak to parents of the many thoughts they have. Therefore, it is a good practice for parents to establish good communication with their teachers to be aware of how their child is coping in school and be informed of any red flags in terms of unexpected behaviours that may manifest in school.

Anxiety is an invisible disability.

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It’s normal for a child to be timid and apprehensive when faced with challenging situations. However, when anxiety impairs the ability for the child to function normally such as:

  • difficulty getting along with peers and teachers
  • low confidence
  • getting low grades in school
  • strained relationship with parents and family members

which means parents and teachers have to take the necessary steps to help the child reduce their anxiety and be able to adapt to the environment around them.

Does your child have anxiety?

  • They have been diagnosed with anxiety-related disorder or condition causing social deficit
  • Your child is rigid , impulsive and emotionally charged
  • There are abrupt patterns of unexpected behaviour
  • They feel challenged in environments that
    • are without structure
    • are always changing
    • requires them to write
    • requires them to engage socially
    • have sudden changes in routine
  • They repeatedly show task avoidance
  • They respond better with the same routines, which they have better control over
  • They have perfectionistic traits

While it may be difficult to observe anxiety related behaviours at home, parents can look out for teacher’s feedback on how their child behaves in the classroom.

Example of anxiety related classroom behaviour

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Observing a child suspected to have anxiety is crucial as the behaviour can be quite subtle and not seem as a big issue. What exactly to look out for is “any sudden change in behaviour” such as:

  • from sitting quietly to fidgeting in a chair
  • from being passive to giving rude remarks to teachers or peers
  • from being attentive and engaging to becoming unfocused, unresponsive to the classroom activities

The need for intervention

Anxiety issues if left unchecked or overlooked can impair a child for life. It can lead to chronic mental problems, drug abuse and catalyse delinquent behaviours. It goes on to impair the child’s everyday functioning such as their communication skills and learning process.

How can we help the child overcome anxiety?

Teachers and parents need to collaborate on identifying the causes of the anxiety in the child and what are the necessary strategies to equip the child with to overcome situations that causes them to react. Developing an anxiety management plan exclusively for the child can be effective to prevent outbursts and reduce unpredictable behaviours. Most importantly, what the child needs is an environment that is well-organised, predictable and calm.

Some strategies to consider:

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1. Give breaks regularly throughout the day to reduce “escape-motivated” behaviour. Providing visual schedules can be beneficial so that they can anticipate what is going to happen next and when they can get their next break.

 

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2. If the child is socially inept especially during recess time or play time, teachers can help to arrange “lunch buddies” or play mates who have the maturity and responsibility to adapt to the child.

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3. Recording unexpected behaviour can help the teachers to measure the success of a behaviour intervention plan using the ABC (Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequence) data sheet. Using the data recorded, teachers can analyse what causes the triggers for the behaviour and be proactive. For example, if the unexpected behaviour occurs during transition from one class to another or one activity to another, accommodations and modifications can be implemented in the school setting.

 

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4. Providing the child with items that regulates their sensory needs is also useful. A “calming box”  consisting of weighted blanket, weighted lap pillows, weighted vest, noise reduction headphones, theraputty should be accessible to the child in the classroom.

 

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5. Positive reinforcement is a great way to boost confidence in the child. Teachers or parents can give them small roles to play such as being the subject leader or line leader. Giving them responsibilities such as taking care of plants, setting the dinner table are also great ways to engage the child positively.

Hope these strategies come in useful and wishing you and your children a great school year ahead!

 

Reference:

Minahan. J & Rapport. N (2012). The Behaviour Code.

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Usha

Usha has been working with children with special needs for 3 years. She has great passion in integrating children with special needs into the community. In her free time, she likes to cycle along the coasts of Singapore exploring nature.

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