Many students this year will need support with anxious feelings. In this previous blog post, we learned about what anxiety is, where it comes from, how it might appear in students, and books for children about anxiety. Today, I am going to teach you specific strategies that you can teach your students to help cope with their anxieties. These strategies are helpful for all students – not just students with a diagnosed anxiety disorder. All of these strategies are taught in my new Worry Wizards curriculum to support students with anxiety.
It is important that you are teaching these strategies and practicing these strategies when students are calm. When a student is in crisis – they are not in a helpful place to learn a new coping strategy. See how I embed some of these strategies into our morning meeting greeting.
Deep breathing strategy
Deep breathing should be the first coping strategy to teach students. It is a critical strategy for almost any social-emotional concern. My favorite quick and easy deep breathing strategy is the five-finger breathing. Watch it here!
Triggers and the Size of our Worries
Our students need to understand what causes them to feel worried and how to identify the size of their worries. Sometimes, a small issue can cause a big reaction. We need to teach our students to differentiate between small worries or problems that we can solve on our own, from worries that are really big and need adult help with. Having discussions with students, when they are calm, about what their triggers are and what the size of their worries are, can help them when they do feel anxious. The more you have these conversations, the more they can become internalized in the child when they feel worried and anxious.
What you can control
It is also important for students to know what they can control and what they can’t. Often our big worries are things that we have no control over. However, what we can control is how we react to our stressors. This is a great starting point to teaching more coping strategies.
Mindfulness, Meditation and Guided Imagery
Mindfulness is a powerful strategy to use with students who are anxious but is beneficial to all your students. There are lots of wonderful mindfulness resources out there (I outlined some great books last week). Some easy and simple ones to do are a mindfulness walk. Have students take a short walk outside. Encourage them to be silent and listen to the sounds they hear. Then when they come inside, they can talk about what they heard. Another easy activity is to have students close their eyes and then you ring a chime or bell. Students will raise their hand when they hear the sound and lower their hand when the sound stops. This is a powerful exercise in listening closely to your environment and being present in the moment.
Meditation and guided imagery are also great tools for anxiety. You can find different guided imagery scripts online, or in my Worry Wizards unit. Guided Imagery can help students learn to visualize happy and peaceful places when they feel worried.
Similar to the mindfulness exercise I mentioned, a grounding exercise asks students to be closely in-tune with their surroundings. Children are asked to use their senses and describe their surroundings. This exercise is a great strategy for students to use when they are upset (as long as you have taught it and practiced it beforehand).
These activities are a must have for every classroom – you never know when you may have a student that benefits from them! I have used them almost every year. The goal of these activities is to keep the child’s mind busy so they can’t ruminate on their anxious thoughts. It should be activities that take brain focus, but that are not challenging for the child (as that can be another trigger for them). When a child is showing anxious thoughts and behavior, simply pull one of these distraction tools out for them. Some examples include Where’s Waldo, I Spy books, Sudoky, crossword puzzles, Trivia, color by number, mazes, connect the dots, puzzles, etc .
Healthy Bodies help with healthy feelings!
Many studies show that your body fights off anxious feelings after just five minutes of aerobic exercise. Exercise can help decrease tension, help you sleep better, and elevate your mood. Movement breaks are a good idea to have throughout the day. Some ideas include jumping jacks, walks, Go Noodle, dancing, and yoga.
I don’t know about you, but when I am feeling stressed and anxious, yoga is one of the most helpful activities I can do. It gives you all the benefits mentioned about for moving your body, but it also helps focus your brain on the different poses and puts your whole body at peace.
Positive self-talk and reframing anxious thoughts
We need to help our students reframe their anxious thoughts. There are a few activities in Worry Wizards to help with this. We want to give them the language to share positive affirmations.
These simple coping strategies are essential for supporting students with anxieties. They must be taught and practiced when students are calm so that they can use them next time they are in crisis.