Background Information

Feeling anxious is expected in stressful situations. For example, first day of school jitters are anticipated or standing in front of an audience for the first time may have a student feeling nervous, scared, or worried. For most, those feelings will go away once they feel safe and get used to the new experience. For others, though, the feeling may be intense and remain that way over an extended period of time. When those feelings do not go away and life activities are impacted negatively, they may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Research: Child Mind Institute discusses the different kinds of anxiety, which may be hard to detect as anxiety in the classroom ( children/).
Classroom signs for teachers to consider may include:
• Inattention and restlessness;
• Attendance issues and clinginess;
• Disruptive behavior;
• Troubling answering questions in class;
• Frequent trips to the nurse;
• Problems in certain subjects;
• Not turning in homework;
• Avoiding socializing or group work.
Many of these signs are considered something other than anxiety initially, for example inattention and restlessness potentially could be thought of as Attention Deficit/Hyper Activity Disorder. All anxiety disorders involve fear, worry, and excessive distress for the individual. It is important for a healthcare provider or mental health professional to make this level of diagnosis, however, and not an educator. The educator’s role is to maintain open and trusting communication with the child’s caregiver and make them aware of any signs of anxiety they may see with the student during the school day.

Best Practices and Implications for Professional Practice

Environment: Providing an environment where students feel safe and cared for lays a foundation for supporting a child dealing with severe stress or anxiety. Any crisis or stressor will impact the functioning of the brain. As the Harvard Center for the Developing Child states, “Learning how to cope with adversity is an important part of healthy child development. When a child’s stress response systems are activated within an environment of supportive relationships with adults, the psychological effects (of the stress) are buffered and brought back down to baseline.” In other words, when a child feels anxious, their stress response increases to protect them in case they are in real danger. Having supportive relationships in a caring and
positive environment helps children regulate their emotions and become more resilient and understanding of change.

Instructional practices can include ways to:
a. Define what anxiety is.
b. Talk about stress and anxiety and the brain.
c. Teach students how to recognize anxious feelings.
d. Help them develop coping strategies for anxiety.

Suggested Resources

Safe2Help Illinois Website Resources:

• It's OK to Not be OK Video

Other Resources:

Trauma-responsive Universal Online Modules The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), Center
for Childhood Resilience (CCR) at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and Peoria
Regional Office of Education have partnered to provide a Virtual Learning Community (VLC) which
provides free virtual on-demand training and education resources to help educators, clinicians,
parents, and caregivers better support the mental health and resilience of the children and youth
in their communities.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network Use the National Child Traumatic Stress
Network’s (NCTSN) “Creating, Supporting and Sustaining Trauma-Informed Schools: A System
Framework,” to consider how schools can adapt or transform their practices by using a
trauma-informed approach to help children feel safe, supported, and ready to learn. It provides
trauma-informed school strategies during COVID-19.

Conscious Discipline – COVID-19 Stress: How uncertainty Affects our Brains We are living during
a time of great uncertainty with COVID-19. Prolonged uncertainty causes predictable changes in the
brain for both adults and children. We can use a foundational understanding of these changes to
create greater resilience, new ways of thinking, and increased wellbeing for ourselves and our

Child Mind Institute – The Power of Mindfulness Discusses how a meditation practice can help
kids become less anxious and more focused.
Safe2Help Illinois Toolkit 23

Harvard University Center in the Developing Child – Persistent Fear and Anxiety can
Affect Young Children’s Learning and Development It is essential that children have safe, secure
environments in which to grow, learn, and develop healthy brains and bodies.
Science shows that early exposure to circumstances that produce persistent fear and chronic anxiety
can have lifelong effects on brain architecture.

Dr. Bruce Perry – Emotional Contagion: Neurosequential Network Stress and Trauma Series This
video discusses 'emotional contagion' and talks about the power of calm. The concept of power
differential is discussed in context of human interactions and discusses the importance of calm,
regulated leadership in times of stress and distress.

Sample Classroom Strategies

IL SEL Standards:

Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life
Goal 2: Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive
Goal 3: Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and
community contexts.


These activities can be used to address the Illinois SEL Standards:

• PreK – Kindergarten Activities
a. Make the days predictable for students. Predictability reduces anxiousness. Make daily picture schedules to post at circle time. For the first few days, place the pictures in order of the daily activities. After a few days, have the students put the pictures in order. Starting the day in this way reduces worry around what to expect.
b. During circle time, discuss feelings and the difference between anxiety and normal worries. Talk about how these feelings can have physical symptoms, too, like tummy aches or quick. shallow breathing.
c. Practice the coping strategy of Belly Breathing with Sesame Street
d. Practice the coping strategy of Mindfulness with Sesame Street and Headspace (6 YouTube Kids videos linked in article)

• 1ˢᵗ-2ⁿᵈ Grade Activities

a. Make the days predictable for students. Predictability reduces anxiousness. Daily schedules outlined on the Board and discussed prior to starting the day, reduces worry around what to expect.
b. After defining anxiety, talk about what is happening in the students’ brains. Share the Fight, Flight, Freeze- A Guide to Anxiety for Kids video and discuss:
• As a class, discuss how students feel when they start to become anxious…Help them organize the feelings with 4 warning signs questions:
o What do I DO when I’m starting to feel anxious?
o What do I SAY when I’m starting to feel anxious?
o What does my body LOOK like when I’m starting to feel anxious?
o What does my body FEEL like when I’m starting to feel anxious?
c. Use literature (such as the book, What is a Thought? by Amy Kahofer and Jack Pransky with lessons included) to discuss the amazing power of thought.

• 3rd -4th Grade Activities
a. Make the days predictable for students. Predictability reduces anxiousness. Daily schedules outlined on the Board and discussed prior to starting the day, reduces worry around what to expect.
b. Use the video scene from the movie Inside Out to discuss anxiety and depression:
• Define and discuss self-compassion. Have students journal about times they felt anxious for an extended period of time. Looking back, write what they would say to their younger selves to help them be less anxious and stressed?