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What can schools do about anxiety?

Step 1: Learn About Anxiety

Typical Anxiety

Anxiety is a temporary response to a stressful situation. It doesn’t happen often and is appropriate to what’s happening.

What does it sound like in children?

“What if I fail the math test? “Will I have to repeat the grade?” “What if no one talks to me at the party or I say something dumb?”

What are some behaviors and symptoms that might show up?

Reluctant to take risks. For example, they may avoid asking teachers for help or decide to stay home rather than go to the party. Avoid asking for directions or help. Avoid going to new places or trying new things.

What is the frequency of these episodes?

These episodes are isolated and pass quickly.

Anxiety Problem

An anxiety problem is frequent and intense feelings of anxiety that can be a diagnosable medical condition like generalized anxiety disorder.

What does it sound like in children?

Worry about many things — school, sports activities, things taking place far in the future, current events like war and school shootings, and what others think of them.

What are some behaviors and symptoms that might show up?

School refusal, social isolation from activities and people, and irritability for no apparent reason. Physical symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, fidgeting, trouble sleeping, nightmares, and night terrors.

What is the frequency of these episodes?

Episodes every day for several months may require intervention and a diagnosis by a professional.

Step 2: Know the Approach


Typical Anxiety

  • Be sensitive to kids’ differences and avoid creating stressful situations

  • Help kids feel successful and reduce their worries

  • Identify adults who can provide emotional support

  • Communicate with parent/guardian

  • Have a quiet or calm area in the classroom that allows students to decompress

  • Have a visible schedule so students know what to expect

Anxiety Problem

  • Can hinder a child’s ability to focus and shift from one situation or task to another

  • Social situations like recess, field trips, and assemblies can also trigger anxiety

Common school supports specifically for anxiety disorders

  • Advance notice of upcoming transitions

  • Seating where your child is most comfortable

  • Extended time on tests

  • Tests are taken in a separate, quiet environment

  • A designated lunchtime buddy

  • Preferential grouping for field trips so a child is with a teacher or familiar people

  • A designated adult at school to seek help from when feeling anxious

Parents & Caregivers

Typical Anxiety

  • Take your child’s fears seriously, but express confidence in your child’s ability to manage them

  • Remind your child of past successes and strategies that worked in those situations

  • Brainstorm new strategies and practice them

  • Develop a backup plan. For instance, role-play scenarios if your child is anxious about attending a birthday party. Agree to an early pickup if your child isn’t having fun. Talk about other parties your child had fun at in the past

  • Try to avoid accidentally “rewarding” your child’s anxiety. For example, allowing your child to miss school or practice, substituting ice cream for going to a classmate’s party, or giving too much reassurance

Anxiety Problem

  • Talk openly with your child about anxiety in a supportive, nonjudgmental way. Seek your child’s perspective and share your own experiences

  • Get familiar with signs of anxiety in young kids, teens, and tweens. Take notes on what you see, and share your concerns with your child’s healthcare provider

  • If your child is being treated for anxiety, be supportive and patient as your child develops new coping strategies. Help practice new techniques learned in therapy

  • If your child has social anxiety, role-play social situations

  • Consider talking to a mental health professional to help you cope with the stress of having a child with anxiety

Step 3: Share the Info

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An article on Anxiety Disorders from the National Institute of Mental Health.