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

Teach students that making mistakes is normal. Some students may worry too much about making mistakes in their work. Tell the class regularly that mistakes are normal and they help us learn. 

Talk to students about tests. Before tests prepare students and normalise that some questions may be difficult while others will be simpler. Opportunities to practise working on an assessment task or test that is not graded can reduce feelings of anxiety.

Help students manage work output. For students who worry about having perfect work avoid giving them an extension, as they may then spend even longer worrying about making it perfect. If they are slow at finishing work you may need to encourage them for how much they complete within a set time instead of encouraging or assessing the quality of their work. 

Avoid pointing out mistakes in front of others. Make sure other students cannot see corrections. 

Help students manage reassurance seeking. Students with anxiety may check instructions often because they are worried about making a mistake. Give a calm and simple explanation, and ask them to write down their worries or save their questions for later (rather than repeatedly asking you questions). Provide effective feedback when they work well by themselves. Write instructions on the board so they have a clear guide to work from.

Make adjustments

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. 

Some students may need a safe place. Provide a safe place for them to reset and manage their anxiety. Let them know what they need to do when they want to go to that space. Let a student sit near the closest exit to 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 into the program can help provide opportunities for a student to manage their anxiety.

Provide a supportive and structured classroom environment

Create a warm and fun environment. This includes making sure disruptive behaviour is 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 students if they are late. This is particularly important if they are anxious about coming to school. 

Model ‘brave’ behaviours. Watching others model brave behaviours and helpful coping behaviours can help students learn how to overcome their own fears.

Talking aloud about what you are doing to manage feeling a little nervous or anxious is one way you can model brave behaviour.

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 upset students who have experienced trauma linked to gender, race or other cultural factors.

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.

Knowing strategies for supporting your own wellbeing before and after responding to young people with anxiety concerns is important for a calm and supportive relationship with a student.

Access the self-care: you do you page and relaxation exercises page on Beyond Blue.