By: Janelle Pejsa
Do your students or children struggle with anxiety? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, 9.4 percent of children aged 3-17 were diagnosed with anxiety in 2016-2019 alone, and that percentage is only rising.
With 22 years of experience in elementary education, I have taught several fourth and fifth grade students who have dealt with some form of anxiety. In the last 5 years, I have witnessed both the level of anxiety change dramatically as well as the way anxiety presents itself in kids.
Feeling afraid, worried and anxious occasionally can be a natural and healthy response to the unknown or a possible danger. But, sometimes these feelings of anxiety become so intense that they negatively impact a child’s academics, peer relationships and emotional wellbeing. To prevent anxiety from negatively impacting our students’ and kids’ lives, it’s important to learn common causes and signs of anxiety as well as ways to help kids manage their anxiety.
Anxiety is often triggered by what’s happening in a child’s environment. Stressful situations like parents fighting, frequent moving, siblings arguing, the death of a family member or pet, problems with friends, getting bad grades on a test, not making a sports team or failing to live up to their parents expectations are common causes of anxiety. Kids may also become anxious if they don’t know where the next meal is coming from, are living with grandparents or have a family member who is ill.
In my experience, anxiety appears differently in different kids, so it’s important to be aware of their behavior. Anxiety can look like a shy student who is biting their nails, tapping their pencil or constantly asking questions. Similarly, anxiety can appear as frequent trips to the bathroom, constant “stomach aches,” or repeated actions, like organizing their desk, cleaning it off with a wipe, or pacing the classroom. Anxiety can also look like students watching the same episodes of a TV show or reading the same books over and over because they want to know what is going to happen next. Even subtle actions like a student covering their work when you walk by can also indicate they are anxious 'because' their work may be incorrect.
The good news is that if your child or student is having problems with anxiety, there's plenty you can do to help them manage their anxiety. None of us like to see a child struggle with anxiety, but the best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to remove the stressors, but to help them learn to manage their anxiety and function as well as they can–even when they’re anxious. Here are 4 strategies I like to use:
Guion the Lion is all about presenting messages of empathy, curiosity and adventure before children begin making their own judgments and assumptions. Through the children’s book, parenting/teaching resources, fun activities and more, kids can learn how appreciating differences and embracing new ideas leads to unimaginable fun.