A study conducted in December 2022 found that mental health among young people is in decline, leading to lower academic performance, particularly in math and reading scores in grades K-12.1
If your child’s anxieties seem miniscule in comparison to your adult worries, think again. Each new school year brings on a new set of responsibilities, not to mention physical changes, and kids today have even more unique stressors you likely didn’t have, from cyberbullying to environmental threats to fears about another pandemic.
Read on to find out how you can help reduce student anxiety in school and when you should seek professional help.
Understanding Your Child’s School Anxieties
You may remember your own school days fondly, but school itself is a big source of anxiety for many kids. This is especially true for kids who learn or think differently like those with ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia, ODD, OCD, or SPD.
Some of the most common triggers for anxiety at school include:
- Transitioning to a new classroom (or school)
- Peer pressure
- Image concerns
- Test anxiety
- Lack of preparation
- Oral presentations
- Being in danger
Tips & Tricks to Help - for Parents & Teachers
Helping your child or student manage their anxiety can have a long-lasting impact. Once they learn that a tool works and they practice it regularly, they will feel empowered to self-regulate when triggered.
From deep breathing to journaling, here’s how to help a struggling student manage their anxiety when it bubbles up.
1. Talk Openly About Anxiety: Reinforce It’s Normal
Whether your child has been officially diagnosed with anxiety or not, it’s important to talk openly about this complex and common emotion so they do not struggle silently. Communicating that everyone feels anxious from time to time will let them know that they are not alone in feeling the way they do and they are not broken. Anxiety disorders are especially common in children and adolescents, more than any other mental health condition, and there are proven methods to reduce and regulate their symptoms.2 The more they learn about anxiety, the less scary it will sound, and the more willing they will feel to minimize its power.
2. Practice Deep Breaths
One of the most noticeable physical symptoms of anxiety is quick and shallow breathing. This is because anxiety catapults the body into fight-or-flight mode. One way to quiet this stress response is to consciously slow and deepen the breath. This will allow your child to break out of fight-or-flight mode and feel more present in the moment. Explore deep breathing exercises here.
3. Take Breaks & Get Moving
If your child has been sitting for a while submerged in anxious thoughts, getting up and moving can help them return to their body. After all, exercise has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, which helps reduce stress and anxiety, making it easier to focus on important tasks.3 This can be as simple as going for a short walk or simply getting up and stretching.
4. Provide Healthy Meals
Following a healthy diet is crucial to promoting a balanced mood and reducing stress. Studies have linked unhealthy dietary patterns among children to poor mental health, and in comparison, healthy diets to better mental health.4 Make sure your child is eating a nutritious breakfast every morning with brain-boosting foods like eggs, yogurt, or a fruit and veggie packed smoothie. When it comes to packing their lunch or snacks, try to minimize sugary treats and processed foods, which are known to exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
5. Encourage a Regular Sleep Schedule
Sleep and anxiety have a bidirectional relationship. When your child is anxious, it can be difficult for them to fall asleep. But if they don’t sleep well, their anxiety gets worse. One way to break this cycle is to encourage a regular sleep schedule. This means having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, which supports the body’s circadian rhythm. Be sure to eradicate anything getting in the way of good sleep, like screen time before bed, eating too close to bedtime, or sleeping in a room that’s too noisy, too hot, or too cold.
6. Develop a Routine & Stick to it
Daily routines help to reduce stress for both parents and children. When a child knows what’s coming next, it prevents morning chaos, last-minute scrambles, and forgotten items. When they know what to do when they get home, they’re more likely to stay on top of homework and get to bed on time. But it’s crucial that you’re consistent. Having a visual routine chart and incentivizing with rewards can help motivate the child to get on board.
7. Promote the Benefits of Journaling
Encouraging your child to keep a journal teaches them how to externalize their worries and come up with creative solutions. It can also help parents or teachers get to the roots of a child’s anxiety if the child is willing to share what they’ve written. Lastly, journaling is a form of mindfulness that can help bring your child back to the present moment. Consider these journal prompts to get started.
8. Create a Space Where Kids Can Express Themselves
A cool down corner or calm down space is a place where your child can go for a brain break or to express themselves without judgment. It is not a time-out space and should not be used for discipline, which will only associate the space with negative connotations. In this space, your child can journal quietly, listen to soft music, draw, or simply relax, and it can be just as useful in the classroom if there’s enough space.
9. Validate Their Feelings
You may have the best intentions when you tell your child or student that their worry is not a big deal or when you offer a distraction, but this only sends the message that their feelings are bad and something to fix. Instead, give your child the space to express how they feel and listen intently without offering a solution. This shows them that you empathize with how they feel and are there for support if they need it.
10. Teach Kids How to Recognize Warning Signs
Sometimes anxiety can feel overwhelming, but teaching your child how to recognize their triggers and warning signs can help them take action before anxiety takes over. Work with them to uncover their triggers and help them come up with a strategy to face them head on. Help them identify what happens in their body when they’re feeling anxious, such as a racing heart, shaking, sweating, etc. This can signal to them that it’s time to take a brain break, go for a walk, practice some deep breaths, or ask for help.
When to Find Healthcare Professionals to Help
Everyone gets anxious from time to time. But if you find that your child or student is anxious more often and more intensely than they should be to the point that their grades, relationships, and well-being is impacted, it may be time to get some professional help. This may include speaking to a therapist or counselor who can help them come up with self-regulating tools.
If you need more support, consider trying Brillia, a non-prescription medication for children 5-18. Free from harsh, synthetic chemicals and harmful side effects, Brillia helps to reduce anxiety, stress, restlessness, and irritability while improving focus and clarity. Brillia is not habit-forming nor does it cause drowsiness, lethargy, or mask your child’s personality in any way. There are also no “coming off” side effects because the medication does not alter blood chemistry.
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