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Accommodations for AnxietyAccommodations in the classroom for children struggling with anxiety come in many shapes and sizes. As each child is different, so too should be each accommodation and/or modification.

Each of us has the capacity to cope and thrive – we just need to learn what those little stepping-stones to successful thriving looks like. In other words, let’s not get so caught up in the end result. Instead let’s focus on the journey as each step can and should be rewarding.

An Anxious Child in the Classroom

Take for example a child who is terribly frightened to speak in class. During class time, the teacher begins to ask the class to verbally answer some questions. The teacher is asking for participation and choosing those children who are eager and waving their hands frantically in the air.

For an anxious child, this scenario can be utterly devastating. Some might think that the child who is struggling with anxiety is not interested in responding by his/her visual cues – eyes looking downward, body posture cradled in. The teacher may try to engage this child to illicit a response – and further put that anxious child on the spot – by asking that child a question.

The whole class is silent, the ticking of the clock is louder than any noise in the room, and all of those eyes are staring at this one terrified child. This will in no way, shape or form, help bring the correct answer from the child’s brain to the mouth. In fact, in most cases it does the exact opposite. Apart from making this child feel even more uncomfortable and worthless, you may also trigger the creation of some very negative talk within the classroom such as, “he won’t answer” or “why bother asking her?” All of that pressure pushes that fight or flight response truly over the top.

Not sure if a child in your classroom is experiencing anxiety?  Check out Invisible Anxiety: Hiding in the Classroom by Kimberly S. Williams, Psy.D.

One Small Accommodation Makes a Huge Difference

Imagine for a moment if we made just a small shift – just one small accommodation that can potentially shift that feeling of worry and insecurity into pride and confidence. Remember, we are focusing on the journey, and each little step builds on another.

  • Imagine the teacher giving the child a little piece of bright green paper no bigger than your hand.
  • When the child wants to answer a question but is feeling far too anxious to do so, all they would need to do is raise the piece of paper high enough for the teacher to see. This motion would indicate that they want to share the answer but are not quite prepared to say it out loud in front of the class.
  • The teacher could then take the child’s lead and let them answer the question later during a one-on-one conference.

Imagine the confidence that the child will build upon each time they answer a question correctly– perhaps not in the traditional way, but in their way.

Help children with anxiety get to the other side of their anxiety with a “What If” Chart.  Learn more about this solution in my article entitled, Imagining All of Those “What Ifs”.

Ideas for Additional Accommodations

There are a plethora of accommodations that we can make for kids with anxiety. It just takes some outside the box thinking and creativity. Here are some other ideas that you might find useful. Just remember, these are only guidelines and not set in stone, steadfast rules:

Cue Cards for Different Feelings

Sometimes it is quite difficult for the child to verbalize what’s going on inside of them. They just know that they don’t feel right, are overwhelmed and need some help. Much like the little card for speaking up in class, a different colour card can be used for when they need a break outside the classroom. Establish a protocol for this ahead of time so that it is not a mad scramble which can further elicit more fear or panic. A safe place away from the noise and drama of the classroom can be a huge factor for success. Allowing the child to acknowledge those triggered feelings as soon as they occur empowers them and reassures them to listen to their bodies.

Additionally, children can be taught the basic principles of mindfulness using simple games and techniques as suggested in Teach Your Child the Skill of Calm by Cindy Goldrich, Ed.M, ACAC.

Tests, Quizzes and Homework

All this information is coming in and it might be far too much for one anxious mind to take in. Breaking things up into smaller chunks makes it much easier. The fear of failure and the struggle to succeed weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of kids with anxiety. Literally cutting up the tests into smaller sheets of paper may create a greater sense of calm regarding the child’s self-expectations.

Summary

There really is no one true right or wrong idea when making modifications for children with anxiety as long as you remember one thing:

Every child is unique and talented.  Children who struggle with anxiety are no different. They want to learn, are passionate about things, desire to be a part of the world, however, they need some extra support and encouragement. In order to help them thrive we need to let them take the lead in determining the best way to support them. It’s not about control, it’s about helping them to listen to their own body’s cues. By listening to this intricate dialogue of body and mind they can begin to communicate effective strategies, and before you know it, they will be well on their way to success.