How can we help children feel less stressed?
The most common mental health condition in the UK is anxiety and student anxiety is at an all time high. So what are the ways we can help them cope and manage their stresses?
Anxiety: 10 Tips and Practical Pointers
Anxiety is a huge problem. Regardless of age, ability or Key Stage it is essential that anxious learners know what the day holds for them.
For some pupils this may mean having a morning check in with a trusted adult to review what is happening during that day. For others it may mean having a visual classroom timetable that is clear to see so that they know what is happening next. Some learners may prefer having an individual visual timetable with a more personalised approach.
There are lots of examples available but Widgit make great symbols and have a range of templates to use.
2. Advance warnings of change
If you know a school trip is coming up or a change of classroom due to exams then forewarn the young person as much as possible. Even slight changes can cause anxiety levels to rise. This may not always be possible but try and prepare them when you can.
3. Quiet areas
Sometimes it all gets too much. Too much noise, too many people, too much to have to process.
Knowing that there is a quiet space to retreat to for a short while can help anxious learners as they know that there is another option to take if they really can’t manage. For some this might mean a hall pass to sit in the library for some self study. Younger pupils may benefit from a tent in the classroom.
Work with the learner and their family to identify what triggers there may be. Some learners may have had significant experiences in their personal life which means that raised voices or a large male teacher can immediately cause anxiety levels to rise.
Minimise those that you can but accept that you cannot change them all or that there might be some that you are not aware of. Identifying triggers can be hard but keeping notes on potential reasons is useful.
5.Mental health service
If you feel that the young person’s anxiety is increasing or that it is already severe then a referral to Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is useful.
They may be able to identify a range of causes including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or attachment needs. They can also offer schools advice for how to better support the young person as well as supporting them to understand how they feel and maybe understand why their anxiety happens.
Don’t take a pupil’s reaction towards you personally. Anxiety causes a range of responses including an increased sense of fear, the need to run away as well as physical feelings of dizziness or sickness. When we are an adult trying our best to support and care for an anxious pupil, it can be disheartening when they respond to use with verbal or physical abuse.
Taking a step back and reflecting on what you said/did can reassure you that you were doing the right thing. Or, if you handled it badly, it can be a motivator to change some of your own behaviour.
Some situations with anxious learners can be pretty intense especially if they are placing themselves at risk or have had a major incident when adult support has been needed. An anxious leaner is going to need you to be consistent and ready to offer support to them the next day and the day after that.
7. Positive handling plan
These are useful tools for recording ways which work to support a learner and those to avoid so that all staff are using a constant approach. You can record which adults the pupil responds to and even note some of those triggers mentioned earlier.
Working with a young person to develop a checklist for what they can do when they feel anxious gives them a greater sense of power over their feelings. These can be very simple lists which has a personalised approach to helping them return to feeling a greater sense of calmness and control.
9. Listen and breathe
When a learner is experiencing intense anxiety they are just not in a position to rationalise their feelings and accept the reassurance you may be trying to give. Instead listen to what they have to say and empathise rather than trying to find a logical solution.
If you model deep, calm breathing and a quite stance then that can help them to copy your behaviour and ease what they are feeling.
Make use of the knowledge out there so that you understand anxiety better. There are great websites such as Mind and a really useful booklet produced by The Mental Health Foundation which is very accessible and will give you a basic awareness of what a young person might be feeling.
Have you got any other tips to share?