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10 Ways to Support Learners with Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders occur on a spectrum and can impact children in a variety of ways.  Some children may deal with low levels of apprehension, while other children develop severe and intense anxiety.  While students with anxiety will benefit from the following recommendations, consider implementing them in larger groups such as classrooms or group therapy. In these groups, they practice speech therapy and occupational therapy. This promotes an inclusive environment from which all learners can benefit. 

Use structure: Incorporate daily and weekly routines to help children learn what to expect.  Post schedules in a visible area.  This is especially important for older children who have rotating or complex schedules.  If there are any upcoming changes in routines (such as a substitute or a fire drill), give children advance notice whenever possible. 

Provide a 'just right' challenge: Allow students to learn and grow while building their self-confidence.  Grade your activities so that they are just challenging enough to stretch the child’s learning.  For further assistance, you may consult the Speech Therapy Clinic Rhode Island.

Offer choice:  By using a topic, subject, or medium that is exciting to students, they will naturally gravitate toward engagement.  Especially when an assignment or activity is new and daunting, a small piece of choice can motivate children to initiate the task.  This could include anything from designing a math problem based on their favorite sports team to giving a book report on their favorite classic. 

Use positive feedback:  Positive reinforcement signals to children that they are doing what is expected and can be a great way to boost the confidence of children who have anxiety.  Feedback can be in the form of a token system, a smile, nod, or words of affirmation. 

Teach challenging skills:  Sometimes, learners need extra direction.  Direct instruction can be a great way to improve skills and, therefore, confidence for activities with a physical component, such as writing or playing a sport.  Break down tasks into smaller chunks, demonstrate skills to your students, and practice.

Be flexible about participation:  Try making group participation optional.  Let students know that they can contribute to the conversation when they are ready and that you will not call on them. 

Use clear expectations:  Letting students know exactly what you expect is a great way to communicate mutual respect.  Particularly when a project or activity is brand new, knowing the outcome will be helpful to children with anxiety. 

Eliminate busywork: A child working on fractions does not need to complete 100 problems to master the skill and demonstrate competence.  If a worksheet looks overwhelming or visually 'busy,' it could likely benefit from being revised or broken up into smaller assignments. 

Identify strengths:  Use the one-on-one time to reflect on past successes, strengths, passions, and skills.  If you want to use an example in a group setting to provide an example of problem-solving skills, ask for student permission beforehand.  

Teach self-management:  Another strategy that students with and without anxiety disorders can benefit from is self-management skills.  Talk about self-regulation, brainstorm symptoms of being dysregulated, and develop language, and teaching strategies.  Use examples from your personal life to connect with students and demonstrate the importance of this life skill.  

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