Helping Students Overcome Anxiety
As a school social worker at Mannheim Middle School and a private practice therapist at Olimene Counseling Inc., I have seen a dramatic rise in children experiencing symptoms of anxiety. The changes that have occurred this year have severely disrupted routines. Many children in the United States continue to learn remotely; they have had to adjust to new norms and expectations as students. This experience can be highly anxiety-provoking.
In response, I collaborated with my district colleague, Marcela Cook, and a client who is a parent to put together this blog and presentation. My goal is to introduce the basics of anxiety and to help navigate the way this information can be shared with children. You can find the full presentation here (a picture from my presentation slide “What are feelings?” is below).
First and foremost, we believe that children need to learn about brain anatomy in order to understand anxiety. When they understand more about the fight, flight, and freeze principle, then they understand why they are experiencing symptoms of anxiety. Once children understand a bit about the anatomy of the brain, they may feel more empowered and in control of their emotions.
It is crucial that you teach students healthy coping skills and strategies. Children need to learn how to use I-statements early on in order to further develop their communication skills (e.g., I feel________, when you __________ because ________). When children can effectively communicate how they feel, they have the capacity to develop healthy relationships with the people around them and appropriately self-advocate. As a clinician, I like to teach these skills by using the Zones of Regulation Curriculum and work with them to create their own mood-meter.
Another healthy coping strategy that is frequently useful for children is mindfulness. When children learn to be mindful, they learn to be present at the moment. At a young age, it is vital that children understand that it is safe to experience uncomfortable feelings. Life is not always easy and experiencing unpredictability is a part of life. When they are experiencing a challenging situation, they can learn how to center themselves.
School Social Work Group Hands-on Activities
Children can also be taught hands on activities that help with emotion management. Currently, I run a virtual club called “SEL Club” at the school I work. The has focused on doing hands on activities; for instance, students have made stressballs, lavender playdough, and mason glitter jars. These hands on projects help children to deal with anxiety in a positive manner and to engage in meditation. Once students are done doing the activity, then they are specific exercises to do at home.
Within a school setting, it is crucial to give parents psychoeducation about symptoms of anxiety and stress management. At my school with the support of administration, I invited speakers to teach parents strategies on how to deal with anxiety at home due to remote learning. When parents are educated about these topics, they feel more empowered to be able to handle conflicts at home. It is important for parents to focus on what is within their control versus what is not within their control.
These are a few fundamental anxiety relief tools for our students. However, if you’d like to dive deeper and learn more, or simply connect with me please follow me on Twitter/ Instagram or connect with me on the SSWN!