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May 14, 2013

How to Identify Anxious Children in Your Classroom

Written By: Brandi Jordan
X How to Identify Anxious Children in the Classroom

How to Identify Anxious Children in the Classroom

by Ryan Rivera

Childhood anxiety is becoming more and more of a problem. It was once believed that children with anxiety would simply grow out of it, but as many as 50% of children with some evidence of an anxiety disorder grow up to be anxious adults. In addition, children that suffer from anxiety may be missing out on valuable social development, and possibly learning issues that may prevent them from succeeding later on.

As a teacher, you’re in a unique position to evaluate childhood anxiety. Anxious children may still be open around their parents, but in the classroom surrounded by their classmates that anxiety tends to manifest.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxious Children in the Classroom

Signs of Classroom Anxiety

Signs and symptoms can vary, and your instinct is often going to play a role. But there are several examples of signs that a child might have anxiety. Examples include:

  • Clear Shyness When Asked to Speak Up

Children sometimes talk quietly, and teachers ask them to speak up when called upon. If the child responds by showing visible discomfort, claiming they don’t know the answer even though they had just a moment ago potentially shared the answer, or fails to make eye contact and shows emotional distress after answering, that may be a child with anxiety.

  • Somatic Complaints

Parents are actually the ones that tend to hear the most somatic complaints, as children are more likely to express physical illness issues long before class has started. But children may show the same issues at school, especially if they are about to or have recently done something publically or socially. If it looks like the child is physically ill when confronted with potentially anxiety producing situations, severe anxiety may be the cause.

  • Social Confidence

There’s a pattern here: most signs of anxiety in young children have to do with social anxiety. That’s because even though there are many different types of anxiety and anxiety disorders, most children seem to show some fairly clear social anxiety symptoms. Anxiety is an overwhelming condition that often bleeds into other areas of a child’s life, so paying attention to them socially is one of the best ways to really get an idea of how strong their anxiety is.

So if you see a child that is clearly lacking in social confidence – one that is very shy, or having trouble participating altogether – that could easily be a sign that they have anxiety issues.

  • Grades/Intelligence

Teachers tend to have a sixth sense for student’s ability. But when the child’s grades appear to be slipping despite this intelligence, it’s possible that anxiety is the cause. This is especially true if the child seems to have an understanding of the classroom material, and the reason for the grade is an overall lack of focus.

What to Do As a Teacher

Teachers for children at such a young age have a very strong impact on their lives. Coordinating with the child’s parents is step one. You can also follow that up with personalized anxiety and fear reduction strategies, such as positive feedback when the child breaks out of their comfort zone and setting them up to succeed in areas you know they’ll thrive so they create more confidence in themselves.

The most important thing is to be understanding. Children with anxiety are suffering every day, and unfortunately the educational system is not always designed to help them. Paying attention to the kids that seem to show the most anxious reactions and responding accordingly will go a long way towards improving their long term outlook.

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  • Jeanette
    May 14, 2013

    Great post. The somatic complaints are key–the school nurse can always tell you who is full of anxiety!

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