Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Panic Disorder: How Teachers Can Help the Anxious Child

A few weeks ago, I wrote about anxiety and panic disorders in children. You can read that article here.  I promised a follow-up post with ideas of how teachers (and parents too!) can assist the anxious child to feel more secure, learn healthy coping mechanisms, and optimize learning in the classroom. So here is my list, which in no way is a definitive one, but it provides a good start.

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Ways Teachers Can Help the Child with Panic Disorder
  • Create a structured environment with predictable routines and the day's schedule posted for the child to see. Depending on the child, it may be beneficial to alert the child a few days in advance to any changes in the routine.  Or, if you have a child like mine, telling them in advance may cause more anxiety.  Up until just a few months ago, my son would worry, fret, and obsess over any changes I told him of in advance.
  • Provide frequent brain breaks, recess, play time~ as much as possible.  At home this means my child works on a task (such as his math homework) and then gets to take a 5-10 minute break before beginning the next assignment.  At school, even allowing the child to get up from their desk to get a drink from the water fountain can help.  As teachers, we know that brain-based research shows that even 15-20 minutes of exercise each day increases concentration for all children.  For the anxious child, it can also help the child with Panic Disorder to learn coping skills, such as releasing negative thoughts through play and relaxation.
  • Teach the child to replace negative thoughts with healthy thoughts:  "I can" instead of "I can't".
  • Provide a time-out area, a "safe place" for the child when they are feeling especially anxious.  When panic starts to increase, may children (and adults) get an intense urge to flee the situation and return to their place of security and comfort (usually their home).   Allowing the child to retreat to the reading or library section of the classroom where there may be pillows and carpeting  is an example of a designated safe place.  Here, the child can escape for a few moments while they work through their panic.
  • Teach the child deep breathing exercises and perhaps visualizing techniques to calm themselves.
  • When possible, allow the child to work by themselves since social interaction can be a major stressor.  We often think that all children enjoy working and socializing with their peers, but this is not so for the anxious child or for students with Aspergers or Selective Mutism.
  • Many teachers arrange their classroom using small groups of desks, pods, or tables.  This is a great strategy to use not only for instruction, but also for the anxious child who may feel too overwhelmed when the teacher has students seated at desks in rows and/or uses primarily whole class instruction.
  • If all else fails, have a plan for the child to visit the nurse or guidance counselor when the panic and anxiety gets to be too much.

This list is just a start!  There are many other techniques and strategies you can use to individualize healthy coping mechanisms for the child with Panic Disorder.  In fact, I wrote about specific strategies in an article I wrote for The Educator's Room.  You can read that article here.

Have an idea to share?  Please leave a comment!

On another note, please knowI am so very thankful for you, my sweet followers, and wish you a joyous, blessed, and restful Thanksgiving holiday vacation!

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1 comment:


  1. Thank you for addressing this! The holidays can be such a hard time when we’re encouraged (or forced) to be in close proximity with family members who frequently have their own hangups about food and weight and are dead-set on projecting those hangups on everybody around them. I definitely go less snarky and more matter-of-fact if someone comments on my food choices–I am bad at being confrontational, but I also like to think that being low-key about things might help normalize it? Of course, I’m also coming at the issue as someone who is still mostly straight-sized, so I know it’ll be different for other folks. You’ve linked to some great resources here and it’s good to know that there’s someone like you who’s smart and compassionate available for those who need commiseration and support. Alex

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