Calming The Anxious Child
We’ve all felt it … those butterflies in the tummy, a lump in the throat or concern that takes over our thoughts. Anxiety is a natural part of life, everyone faces concerns or worries at some stage. For some of our pupils, especially those with SEN, anxiety can become a daily struggle and barrier to learning. Unfortunately, anxiety can lead to challenging behaviours, withdrawal or inattention – all of which make teaching and learning very difficult for teachers, pupils and peers.
Pupils with autism or other special educational needs find anxiety to be a difficult problem to overcome. Lets a have a look at some causes and practical ideas to calm the anxious child.
Change is a major cause of anxiety. Prepare for any changes ahead of time. Children with autism thrive on regularity and routine, so make them aware if you know there will be a change. In my last blog post I discussed how visual strategies could be implemented, so use a schedule to show the child what is ahead. There are always going to be some unexpected events such as a wet day where you can’t get outside, or some maintenance work in the hall so PE is cancelled. Try placing an ‘X’ over the schedule and use visuals to redirect the child to the alternative activity.
Another strategy which I like to use focuses on breathing techniques. I made a ‘Calm Down Breaths’ book to give a visual prompt to take deep breaths in and out. This is a quick and easy resource to make, but can be used really effectively throughout the day. I picked a time when the child was calm to explain and teach how to use the book, so that when he becomes anxious and unsettled he can use it with just a simple verbal prompt. The book encourages the anxious child to ‘sniff’ visuals such as perfume, flowers, food and aftershave. These are separated by ‘blowing’ the candles, balloon and bubbles. This is a really effective way to encourage deep, calming breaths with very quick results.
It might be necessary to give the child some space or time out in order to help them relax. If that’s the case, create a personal box that they can use to help themselves calm down. Make this as unique as you can, tailored to the child’s likes and interests. Some things you might like to include are:
- An iPod with calming music or a guided meditation
- Fidget toys such as blue tack or a stress ball
- Scented playdough (create your own with some calming lavender oil)
- Photos of familiar people or happy places
- A favourite book
- Colouring pages and pencils
- Hand cream for massage
- Ear plugs
- A balloon to encourage deep breathing
- A sensory bottle
Feel free to adapt and use these strategies in different ways to help to keep children calm and focused in your classroom!
Chloe is a Special Needs Teacher from Northern Ireland. When she’s not teaching she enjoys going out for coffee or playing the piano!