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Self-care for Children

There has been a great deal of talk about the importance of self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of stress, worry, and unease for all of us. What we don’t hear enough about, however, is how crucial self-care can be for children’s well-being. During this time that adults need to preserve their own mental health and well-being, they must also tend to their children who require the same, if not more, self-care. Like general hygiene routines, children must be instructed on how to take care of themselves—this includes emotional care, too!

 

Youngsters may initially find it difficult to actually place their feelings into a category. This is especially true in the heat of the moment. Instead of clearly articulating their feelings, kids may just lash out, cry, or shut down. When this happens, parents typically scurry to diffuse the situation quickly—rightfully so—rather than attempting an in-depth conversation about recognizing feelings before they erupt. Yet there are proactive measures that can be taken. To ease future emotional moments, try the following:

 

  • Parents can help little ones recognize and verbalize their feelings by explaining the difference between a situation that might make one angry versus scared or upset.
  • Use scenarios that relate to your child’s age and interests and speak about these experiences hypothetically. Use the word “pretend” as your term to signify each scenario as strictly practice for identifying future feelings/emotions.
  • For children that have specific social needs, visuals are helpful when teaching and discussing abstract concepts such as frustration, loneliness, etc. Consider using cartoons or emojis to help children visualize and conceptualize scenarios with particular emotions and facial expressions.
  • Parents can also encourage kids to clarify the level of emotion that they are experiencing with a rating scale of some sort. For instance, a “1” would indicate a mild level of joy, anger, sorrow, etc., while a “5” would signify an extreme level of feelings.
  • As kids get older, parents can encourage more advanced forms of expression, such as journaling, drawing, painting, photography, meditating, etc.
  • For many kids, expressing and expelling pent up emotions comes with physical activities. When children are struggling with stress, frustration, anger, etc., parents can prompt activities such as jogging, roller blading, juggling a soccer ball, kickboxing, dancing, golf, and any other sport or physical activity to release energy, center one’s focus, and mediate aggression.

 

In addition to recognizing emotional triggers, part of self-care involves removal from situations that could be emotionally toxic. Like all social-emotional skills, this comes with practice. For children, it can be especially difficult to speak up and advocate for themselves when they need a break or a breather, but this can be greatly beneficial for mental health and well-being.

 

Therefore, in addition to recognizing one’s feelings, parents will want to encourage children to speak up when they are reaching the emotional threshold. Strategies could include:

 

  • Asking teachers or other adults for a “brain break” when frustration hits. This could be as simple as taking a short walk in the hallway or getting a sip of water to cool down.
  • Creating a hand signal or code word for children who are hesitant to voice their feelings. When kids say this word or give the specific signal, parents know then that he/she needs a moment to himself.
  • Explaining to children that everyone, no matter how social or friendly they are, needs a break from the crowd sometimes. Make them feel comfortable taking that time for themselves to calm down, collect their thoughts, or just be alone for a moment.
  • Similarly, in times of stress, children can find comfort in positive self-talk. But again, this is a learned practice—parents will want to model positive self-talk to demonstrate how it works. If a child is feeling anxious about a competition or test, practice soothing self-talk strategies to boost confidence and lower anxiety. Silent mantras such as, “You will do your best!” “You worked really hard for this!” “Everyone is already proud of your accomplishments!” go a long way when pepping children up.

Uncertainty & Anxiety—LE Discusses Solutions

Uncertainty & Anxiety—LE Discusses Solutions

 

In addition to our own concerns, which include everything from our family’s health to the unstable economy, experts agree that children and teens are in an exceptionally vulnerable position where anxiety may arise and/or become exacerbated. This is a frightening notion for parents, and understandably so. To combat any anxious tendencies, families must first be aware of the potential for these feelings to emerge. In recognizing increased levels of stress and anxiety in kids, it is paramount that we first acknowledge and then talk through the issues at hand.

 

One important thing for parents to remember is that, once children begin to reach adolescence, their preferred soundboards shift from parents and guardians to their peers. Instead of relying on mom and dad for advice and support, kids tend to lean more on their close friends when dealing with issues. Of course, this only makes sense, due to the fact that our peers are the ones immersed in the daily strife and are experiencing the same or similar events from a familiar vantage point.

 

The teenage years are partly marked by the bonds and camaraderie that develop among peer groups. Therefore, the sudden and swift separation from those peer groups that Covid-19 has caused leaves adolescents feeling exceptionally vulnerable and lonely. Yes, technology allows for consistent contact for socializing—and today’s generation of teens is as savvy as ever. However, FaceTime, DM’s, and Zoom calls do not automatically fulfill the need and desire for close, face-to-face interactions and conversations with peers. Furthermore, the social sphere, whether that’s elementary, middle, or high school, has temporarily vanished, leaving kids suddenly yearning for their routines, daily interactions, typical schedules, and structures.

 

To help put anxious minds at ease, parents should be prepared to have several conversations:

  • Be aware of and acknowledge that the current situation is uncomfortable and unnerving. Kids need to feel validated in their feelings, so this is not the time to lead with, “suck it up,” “it’s not that bad,” or “others have it way worse than you.” Those statements, while potentially true, only serve to alienate your child further—again, they already feel lonely. They need to feel heard and understood now.
  • Encourage them to discuss and express their frustrations and listen. This is certainly a frustrating time for everyone, so children need to be provided with an outlet to express and release those anxious feelings.
  • Think about activities that allow your child to engage in physical activity while simultaneously having a discussion about what they’re experiencing and feeling. Dribbling the soccer ball, shooting hoops, even walking the dog or jumping on the trampoline can provide families with time to chat, while also releasing pent up energy and/or emotions.
  • Encourage virtual socializing among peers, being sure to agree upon outlets, expectations and time limits that are appropriate to the child’s age.
  • Think about having opportunities for groups of moms and daughters to have a virtual coffee date or discuss the latest episode of everyone’s favorite TV show.
  • Plan a virtual pizza party for young kids in the neighborhood if your youngster seems down or lonely.
  • Organize a Zoom call with karaoke to shake things up among friends or family.

 

The point is this: anxiety during this time, especially for kids and adolescents, can be overwhelming. Between hormonal changes and brain development, teens are practically primed to experience higher levels of stress as it is. Parents can help by acknowledging the difficulties, encouraging social connections, and validating their child’s emotions.

Building Resilience in Trying Times

The current Coronavirus pandemic is like nothing we have seen before. We as a society are essentially constructing the track as this train barrels along, which can be unnerving, to say the least. For families with children, the burden may fall even harder in the midst of this global crisis. One tinge of a silver lining, however, is the resilience that will come as a result of persevering through these difficult circumstances.

 

Instead of ruminating on the issues…

Try free writing for 10-15 minutes every day. This form of expression is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety, much like meditation. Expressive writing gives us the opportunity to sit with our thoughts and work through our emotions on paper. Additionally, this process encourages us to work through a difficult time by reclaiming some sense of power—writing allows us to feel a sense of control over how we choose to react in written form.

 

Expressive writing is also a platform for reflection. Through writing, we are able to take time to come to grips with the struggles around us and consider how we can enact change, even if it’s just change within our own attitude or outlook. Finally, expressive writing provides a record of trials and tribulations—later on, if another crisis arises, it provides a resource of strength for us to refer back to for guidance.

 

Instead of wallowing in despair or perseverating over what we’re missing…

Acknowledge the current circumstances and practice acceptance of what we cannot control. It is easy for children and teens to feel as though this health crisis is single handedly ruining many aspects of their lives—socially, emotionally, academically, romantically, psychologically, etc. They may feel as though life is on hold during this pandemic. However, resilience comes from confronting and overcoming hardships. Therefore, learning to accept the hardships or obstacles is the first step in building this level of grit and resilience. As the saying goes, “We must accept the things we cannot change and find courage to change whatever is within our control.”

 

Instead of focusing on the negative…

Help children build resilience by emphasizing gratitude. It is easy to become bogged down in trying times, especially when an unparalleled global crisis is occurring. However, by prioritizing the positive and examining all of the good happening around us, we begin to recognize our strength.

 

Are playdates out of the question? Yes. Is graduation up in the air? Yes. Is prom likely cancelled? Yes. But is your family taken care of? Do you have your immediate needs met? Are you healthy? Are there other people suffering more right now? YES. Resilience and gratitude tend to go hand in hand because, through this crisis, we will learn that we’re stronger than we thought, and we have this strength to be thankful for.

 

Instead of falling into a rut…

Use this difficult time as an opportunity to do things there was not time for in the past. Parents can help bolster a new sense of discovery for their children by encouraging new or abandoned hobbies. Learn a new language, help work on the car, explore which vegetables would thrive in the yard, write poetry, watch cooking competitions, pick up an old guitar, foster a pet. The list continues as far as we can imagine. It is up to parents to encourage new ways of learning, engaging, and experiencing the world during this time of great uncertainty. Resilience can be cultivated by keeping busy—but it is up to us to choose how we use this time.

 

Combating School Refusal: Part II

In Part I, we discussed that school refusal involves more than stubborn non-compliance and cutting school to spend time with friends. School refusal stems from psychological stressors that, for whatever reason, are triggered by the school environment. While school refusal can be a result of many different factors from child to child, there are universally effective strategies that families can utilize.

Managing School Refusal

  • Ask your child why he or she is anxious about going to school. This conversation must come from a calm and understanding place—you cannot show frustration, anger, disappointment, or judgment when seeking to understand the underlying issues. Let children know that you support them by legitimizing their concerns, but that you need to know where their nerves are coming from in order to help. Ask whether this began with an isolated incident with a teacher or peer, or if the triggers are truly unknown.
  • Talk to the school about what is going on. School refusal becomes a bigger issue when teachers are left in the dark. When the school is aware of the underlying anxieties that a student might be dealing with, they will take extra precautions to make sure the student is handled with “kid gloves” during his or her time at school. The school can also help to manage the student’s workload if he or she is missing major assignments due to stress and anxiety about coming to school. On occasion, the school might recommend a half-day or partial schedule so that the student is receiving important instruction in small doses. The school can also work to arrange supports for parents who may be looking into an IEP or 504 plan to ensure accommodations are provided.
  • Plan for small successes and occasional setbacks when your child makes it to school. The anxieties will never dissipate overnight, so it is normal for a child to try to attend school, but then become overwhelmed and ask to go home. This is okay. As a parent, you want to make sure you’re acknowledging your child’s effort and bravery for attempting something that you know is difficult and scary. The process of re-entering school on a regular schedule isn’t going to be swift. Therefore, your best move is to celebrate the small steps and gently encourage them to move forward with their progress.
  • Consider hiring a tutor to help manage the workload that is accumulating due to your child’s frequent absences. The tutor can also, with your permission, act as a liaison between the school and home to ensure that academic goals are being met. The mounting workload can make students even more anxious because they know that, when they return to school, they’ll be confronted with a pile of work. This can make for a never-ending issue of avoiding school because of the stress of all the work from missing school in the first place. The tutor can work with your child in the comfort of your home and help to manage the assignments and tasks, while also providing 1:1 instruction for skills that are necessary for meeting grade-level objectives.

Math Anxiety

As much as my English-oriented brain would hate to admit it, math skills are crucial for functioning in the adult world. This means that, no matter one’s personal distaste for the subject, mastering basic math skills will become a necessity at some point. Those lucky left-brained thinkers, who tend to have more of a knack for computation, analytical thinking, and logical reasoning, relish in their ability to master mathematical concepts. However, psychology research states that nearly 20% of American adults suffer from high levels of math anxiety.

If math anxiety persists over time, adult tasks such as managing time, budgeting money, organizing itineraries, following directions/recipes, remodeling a space, and even shopping can prove difficult. Therefore, it is important that students learn early on about growth mindset and methods for improving their math skills.

Mindset

Math anxiety is often a result of continued negative experiences involving math or the use of related skills. A student who repeatedly struggles with calculations begins to internalize those difficulties and associate the struggle with their own perceived inability to perform. Almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy, these students may develop a fixed mindset about their math skills, meaning that they will believe that they will never be good at math.

Teachers and parents can combat a fixed mindset by discussing the damage that negative self-talk can do. A child who constantly says, “I’m bad at math,” “I’ll never understand this,” or, “It’s too hard for me,” is only solidifying this notion of failure. Instead, model phrases that promote a growth mindset when children are exhibiting math anxiety. Phrases include:

 

  • It’s challenging, but I can do it.
  • I’ll try again.
  • Effort never fails.
  • My mistakes help me understand that I need to try a different strategy.

 

Consider mixed grouping 

When working on math concepts in the classroom, one positive way to reduce math anxiety is to utilize mixed grouping, meaning each group should include a heterogeneous mix of students based on their math capabilities. Varying the groups this way allows students to support one another in a low-pressure, collaborative setting. The higher achieving students are given the opportunity to lead, explain, strategize, and encourage. Simultaneously, the lower achieving students are able to practice their skills with peers and watch how students are successfully approaching math problems. Additionally, students who require more support are given the opportunity to take their time and ask questions in a smaller setting, as opposed to putting themselves on the spot for the whole class.

Use hands-on approaches

Another way to combat math misery is to front load the concept with fun. For instance, if children are beginning to explore fractions, the concept can be abstract and daunting. To ease anxiety, break out the baking supplies and show children how fractions are visually represented. Measuring cups provide a hands-on method for working with fractions. If children want a super chocolatey, chocolate chip cookie, present them with ½ cup of chocolate chips and ¾ cup chocolate chips. Ask which fraction is greater? Finished baking? Slice a cookie into fourths and eat one of the fourths to demonstrate subtraction.

Combating Toxic Stress

As the school year progresses and we near winter break and the holidays, it is easy to get caught up in the chaos of the season. Between family visits, vacations, gift lists, and holiday parties, it is easy for educators to get wrapped up in all of the things going on outside of our classrooms.

 

In fact, we may forget that not everyone eagerly awaits these festive times—for some, the holidays are not full of happy traditions and fond memories. Even with the interventions, resources, and extra supports that schools often provide for students in need, winter break can be a lonely, uncomfortable, and emotionally trying time for students with major stressors at home. For this reason, a little extra TLC before and after the holidays may be necessary. Schools need to provide teachers with strategies for creating and maintaining a classroom environment that helps to combat toxic stress.

 

ACE’s

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACE’s, are shown to result in prolonged, unhealthy levels of stress, which doctors call toxic stress. ACE’s can include alcoholism or drug abuse in the home, homelessness, domestic violence, guardians with mental health issues, divorce, etc. These negative experiences cause stress that chemically changes the brain over time, resulting in learning difficulties, issues regulating one’s emotions, and difficulty making sound decisions.

 

In the classroom

Experts estimate that nearly 40 million American children are at risk of developing toxic stress because of ACE’s. That staggering number means that many of our classrooms include children who are struggling to learn because of circumstances at home that are completely out of their control. To reduce the negative impact of ACE’s, schools must foster a safe, nurturing environment, one that is especially acute to the needs of students battling toxic levels of stress.

 

  • By absorbing the mantra that teachers are educating “the whole child,” we can begin to develop an environment that seeks to help stabilize children’s lives beyond their grades and academics. Whether it be a teacher, coach, counselor, or administrator, students need to have a “safe adult” at school to talk to about their struggles. Showing an interest in that student’s life can be the first step to building that positive, safe relationship. By showing that we care about them, not just their grades, students begin to gain a sense of comfort, appreciation, and trust—which they may not be getting at home.
  • Allow students to take ownership over the classroom to help build a trusting, positive rapport. By providing student choice whenever possible, like choices for novel, projects, procedures, seating, etc., teachers demonstrate that the classroom is fully inclusive—everyone’s voice and opinion deserves to be heard. These inclusive practices help students see themselves as more than their stressors and unstable home life. Collaboration puts them in the driver’s seat by providing a sense of control where they might otherwise feel pushed around or victimized.
  • Set clear, predictable expectations for all children in the classroom. Students need structure, especially those whose home lives might lack structure and stability. Therefore, teachers must maintain consistency so that children know what to expect. For them, school is their safe space; it is where they know that the adults are caring, fair, trustworthy, and reliable. These are qualities that many children with toxic stress do not witness in the adults with whom they live. It’s our job to be that constant in their day-to-day lives.
  • Allow options for self-regulation by modeling appropriate responses to stress. Teachers should consider making a “calm corner” or quiet space in the room designated for cool down time so that students can have a private place to gather their thoughts when emotions run high. Teachers should also consider working out a system where students can use nonverbal cues to communicate their need for a breather. The point is to create classroom procedures that allow students to express their emotions in positive and productive ways. These strategies become habits that children can then employ outside of school when stressors run high.

American Heart Month—Teen Relationships Pt. II

In continuing our look at unhealthy teen relationships, we hope to not only educate families on the warning signs, but also equip parents with methods to intervene. It is important to recognize that an unhealthy relationship is built by manipulation, coercion, intimidation, and by chipping away at a person’s self-worth. Because the abuse can have such a stronghold, it is crucial that parents know how to get their children out when problems begin to arise with their child’s romantic partner.

 

If suspicions arise, it is probably a parent’s first instinct to either “forbid” the relationship, or criticize the boyfriend/girlfriend in an effort to get their child to open his/her eyes to the issues. Parents should stifle both of these urges. Forbidding a teen from doing anything, especially seeing a partner, has a tendency to have an adverse effect. Rather than pulling the two apart, the demand might actually drive the two closer together.

 

  1. Instead, encourage time apart or to spend more time with close friends. Help your teen plan an “all girls” or “all boys” excursion, activity, sleepover, or weekend trip. The key is to create subtle distance by reminding children of their other friends and family that may have gotten the boot when the toxic relationship began.
  2. Instead of outright bad-mouthing their partner, focus the conversation around your teen’s feelings. Ask questions like, “I see you’ve been down, anxious, depressed and short-tempered recently, do you know what might be causing this?” Or, “how do you feel when so-and-so yells at you, criticizes you, controls you, calls constantly, etc.?” Your goal is to highlight the concerning behaviors by examining the effects they have on your child, not by outwardly criticizing the partner or abuser. Use your own experiences with controlling or difficult relationships or friendships to create a space for dialogue that is free of judgment. In the simplest, non-threatening way, you want teens to recognize the negative effects that this unhealthy relationship is having on them.
  3. Monitor and limit phone use if necessary, including text messages, voicemails, email, etc. Frame the conversation as though it is in your child’s best interest to give the phone a break during certain times of day. Create family expectations that during and after dinner, phones should be used minimally, and only for important circumstances. However, parents themselves should follow suit as well—it is difficult to ask teenagers to part with their phones if the adults are not willing to follow the same expectations.
  4. Seek help from a third party. An expert with a neutral vantage point, such as a child psychologist or family therapist, may be the key. Oftentimes, teens feel that parental advice is meant to control them or persuade them to do whatever it is that the parent suggests. A neutral third party willing to listen and absorb the whole situation from multiple sides will be better equipped at getting through to your teen. He or she is trained to help mediate family strife. Therapists are also often able to shed light on an issue without casting judgment or blame, making teens more apt to listen.
  5. Expose your teen to new experiences, hobbies, or activities as a means of taking his or her mind off of the significant other. Set up a family movie marathon, visit a local museum or art studio, go indoor rock climbing, plan a spa day, try cooking a new recipe together, or go to the driving range. The list is limitless when it comes to finding new outings for the family. Whatever you decide, make sure that your teen enjoys the activity and that it doesn’t feel forced or contrived. The point is to create space between your teen and his or her significant other, while showing your teen that there are plenty more happy experiences to seek beyond this controlling relationship.

Dealing with School Drama at Home, Part I

While the middle and high school years are most notably fraught with drama, elementary-aged children are also seeing their fair share of peer disputes and social squabbles. More often than not, drama that occurs during the school day makes its way home with students. Like gum on the bottom of a sneaker, a social issue with a peer tends to latch on and attract more dirt and grime throughout the day, only to become an even bigger issue later on. Since the prevalence of peer issues truly reaches all age groups, it is important that parents have plenty of strategies and tools to utilize when drama rears its ugly head.

 

Avoid fueling the fire or taking on the emotional burden. This is easier said than done because, of course, as a parent, your instinct is to defend and protect by immediately taking your child’s side. However, this instinctual defense mode could simply cause your child’s emotions to become even more dramatic. Instead, use these conversations as an opportunity to diffuse the situation simply by listening. Merely talking about the issue can bring about a level of comfort, so act as the sounding board, not the hype girl.

 

Try not to downplay your child’s feelings with phrases like, “Everyone deals with drama,” or “It’s not that serious.” Your perspective is helpful, but not when it serves to discredit or minimize your child’s feelings. As adults, we can easily forget how these moments in school felt like the end of the world.  Compared to our real world drama we get to experience in adulthood, these quarrels may seem like nothing, but to your child, they are a big deal. Therefore, it is important that they feel heard.

 

You want to be sure that you are not pressuring your child about maintaining or discontinuing a friendship one way or another. It is perfectly helpful for parents to give advice when it comes to friendships, but often times, you may find yourself saying things like, “You two have been friends for years, why let something like this ruin that?” Or, “Our families have known each other since before you were born, you should really try to work this out.” You must allow children to make their own judgement call when it comes to friendship drama; you also want to avoid minimizing their feelings by simply telling them to work it out for your own sake. Furthermore, just because the “close family friends” scenario is convenient, it does not mean that your children are naturally going to get along with your friends’ children.

 

Help them take their mind off of the drama by expanding their circle to include new peers and activities. Ask about neighborhood friends, after-school activities, weekend extracurricular opportunities, and clubs they may want to join. Sometimes a little “friendship break” is all it takes to breathe, regroup, and reset the relationship. In the interim, it is helpful for children and teens to have different options for socializing—casting a wider net ensures that drama can be avoided simply by socializing with other peer groups from time to time.

Anxiety: Ways to Spot a Problem at Home

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As a parent, you have certainly experienced your share of anxiety. Whether stemming from a feeling of nervousness, worry, uncertainty, or fear, that sense of anxiousness from a lack of control is familiar to everyone at some point.

Even if you do not suffer from clinically diagnosed anxiety, it is important to recognize potential signs of an anxiety disorder in your child. The important thing to remember is that, if your child is struggling with anxiety, there are ways to manage it once diagnosed. Research suggests that 80 percent of children with clinical signs of an anxiety disorder are not getting treatment. The key, then, is awareness and the ability to spot how anxiety manifests itself in your child’s behavior.  

One thing is for sure—anxiety affects every child differently. Because anxiety is such a complex condition that is unique to each person, the symptoms vary greatly from child to child. Below are some of the more common indications that your child may be suffering from anxiety.

Avoidance

Again, everyone will experience anxiety from time to time, as it is a normal reaction to stress. However, an anxiety disorder begins to come into play when children start to exhibit avoidance behaviors. Because anxiety creates such a sense of helplessness, sufferers begin to avoid anxiety-inducing situations all together. For instance, if your child appears to be intentionally and regularly avoiding friends or activities, it may be in an effort to escape the anxiety that is produced in certain situations.

Inability to be comforted

Children with an anxiety disorder cope differently depending on each situation. One common thread is that, when anxiety strikes, the child is likely not easily comforted by a parent’s attention or coddling. This is obviously difficult for parents to understand, as your number one role is to comfort and soothe your child’s anguish. Just remember that anxiety can be an all-consuming emotional reaction to stress—one that is not eased simply with attention and hugs.  

Abnormally withdrawn

Shyness is typical in children. However, a child with an anxiety disorder is not only shy, but noticeably intimidated, withdrawn, and reluctant to engage with others. A child with anxiety may also be resistant to making eye contact, especially during one-on-one conversations. Avoiding eye contact or reluctance to speak (selective mutism) are signs that social interactions produce debilitating anxiety for your child. Social anxiety disorder affects children specifically in social situations. This may occur when a child feels uncomfortable with direct attention, large group settings, or meeting new people.

While occasional anxiety is typical and varies from child to child, it is important to know the common signs of a possibly larger problem. Statistics indicate that 1 in every 8 children will suffer from an anxiety disorder. With such a staggering number of affected children, awareness is the first line of defense when diagnosing and treating anxiety. For parents, knowing the signs and symptoms of a larger issue will mean the difference between proactively managing the condition and suffering in silence.  

 

It’s Not Always What it Seems: Anxiety in the Classroom

 

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Anxiety is something that educators are seeing more and more of in our children. With countless theories on the causes of this rising diagnosis, one thing is for sure—anxiety affects every child differently. Because anxiety is such a complex condition that is unique to each person, the symptoms vary from child to child. In fact, the symptoms may even vary from situation to situation. For instance, a child with anxiety may display different symptoms in different situations throughout the day.  Anxiety may manifest itself differently from classroom to classroom simply because of the environment or different stressors present.

Because anxiety presents itself in many different ways, it is often hard to initially see or understand, especially in the classroom. With this knowledge, it is important that teachers take a closer look at different behaviors and tendencies. For instance, a child with anxiety may present different behaviors depending on comfort level.

Here are a few signs to look for in children who may be suffering from anxiety:

Eye Contact

A child with anxiety may be resistant to making eye contact, especially during one-on-one conversations. It is important for educators to be mindful that the lack of eye contact is not a defiant or dismissive behavior. Instead, direct eye contact may be intimidating or anxiety-producing because the child feels uncomfortable with the direct attention. This can often be closely related to a more specific form of anxiety called social anxiety disorder. Children who suffer with social anxiety disorder exhibit symptoms of anxiety when they feel that all eyes are on them. Especially in social situations, such as in a classroom, a child may be reluctant to participate, work with others, or even answer one-on-one questions because of the discomfort.

Inattentiveness

Similarly, a child with anxiety may appear aloof, inattentive, or “checked out” during classroom instruction. Again, this may be an anxiety disorder rearing its head. A child with generalized anxiety disorder is often consumed with worries, fears, or concerns about an aspect of his or her life. When children fixate on a concern or worry, they are likely unable to concentrate in the classroom. This is very different from a student that is simply bored or disinterested. Furthermore, the constant fixation and worrying often continues at home, making it difficult for children to refocus or “power down.” The GAD symptoms will often result in insomnia or restlessness.

Irritability

Sometimes due to the insomnia, students with anxiety may exhibit irritability at school, as well. Of course, when sleep is regularly disrupted by anxiety, a child may appear to be more fatigued or ill-tempered. This type of behavior is different from a child who is simply choosing to disrupt or defy. When anxiety takes over, the irritability is simply an outlet for the frustration and stress.

With this in mind, it is important for teachers to identify behavioral concerns that are separate from the anxiety disorder. Often times, taking a little breather or moment to get a drink of water will be enough to allow the student to reset and alleviate the stress.