Best practice tips for anxiety

Best practice tips are strategies that have been evaluated in other settings, target a relevant factor (such as a teaching style that lowers student anxiety), or is considered best practice by experts in the field.

Normalise mistakes

Break large tasks or assignments down into smaller tasks. Large tasks may worry some students. Encourage students when they complete or attempt to complete smaller tasks.

Try not to give tasks where students are timed. They may feel too stressed to work well.

Let students work in small groups. They may feel more comfortable talking to a few classmates than talking in front of the whole class.

Create a safe space. Create a space for students to use to reset and manage their anxiety. Tell them what they need to do when they want to go to that space. Let a student sit near their safe space so that they don’t attract attention from others when going there.

Collaborate with health professionals. If a health professional (such as a psychologist) is working with a student, actively incorporating their suggestions at school can help provide opportunities for a student to manage their anxiety.

Consider student stressors and experiences

Let students set goals. Allow students to share their voice and participate in the decision making around what would be helpful in supporting them.

Make sure students and staff do not use stereotypes and biases. This includes ‘jokes’ that could agitate students who have experienced trauma linked to gender, race or other cultural factors.

Provide a supportive and structured classroom environment

Create a warm and fun environment. This includes making sure behaviours of concern are understood and managed well.

Don’t draw attention to a student with anxiety. Provide feedback to students privately.

Consider how you discipline. Students with anxiety might think whole class discipline is aimed at them personally, or they might be scared of any type of discipline that makes others notice them. Avoid whole class discipline or harsh or embarrassing discipline.

Don’t punish if they are late. This is particularly important if they are anxious about coming to school.

Acknowledge a student’s emotions. Provide warm and calm support to a student when they are distressed or anxious, and acknowledge how they are feeling.

Model ‘brave’ behaviours. Watching others model brave behaviours and helpful coping behaviours can help students learn how to overcome their own fears. For example, talking out loud about the strategies you are using when feeling worried can help.

Monitor your own emotions

Be aware of how you feel. Supporting a student with anxiety can at times be difficult, and you may feel frustrated. Being aware of your feelings and thoughts is important for a calm and supportive relationship with a student.