Supporting students who are anxious Copy

The following short-term interventions are intended to help students who experience problematic anxiety gain enough confidence to join in regular classroom activities. When selecting these interventions, do so with the intention of phasing them out as students learn strategies to cope with their anxiety.

  • Use the check-in to establish a positive connection with students, explore and practise coping strategies they find helpful, and create a plan for using them during the day.
  • Establish a quiet, safe place in the classroom where students can go when they are feeling overwhelmed. Include sensory and creative materials.
  • Work with students to create a menu of acceptable places where they can take a break when needed (e.g., quiet space in the classroom, the counsellor’s office, in the hallway, at the water fountain).

  • Take note when students attempt something new or challenging and privately acknowledge their bravery.
  • Consider preferred seating options and include specific students in this decision.
  • Avoid establishing a pattern of exempting assignments or activities. Instead, help students gradually approach tasks or situations they feel anxious about by breaking them into small, manageable steps (see the EASE lesson Taking Brave Steps). Avoidance feels better in the short term, but it can increase anxiety over time.
  • Plan for a slow transition to begin the school day, allowing students to settle and setting them on a positive course for the day.
  • When necessary, implement a formal transition plan in which a child and youth care worker, educational assistant or counsellor welcomes and checks in with specific students daily (5 to 10 minutes).

  • Establish the use of a “break card” for students to silently signal when they need a break to gain control of their emotions.
  • Use the EASE Worry Scale to do additional check-ins during moments or tasks of concern.
  • Warn students about any expected changes in routine or schedule, and have a plan for coping with unexpected changes when they occur. For students who are extra-sensitive to sound, provide warnings about fire and safety drills in advance and work with them to create a plan that will help them feel safe during the drill.

Teachers and educational assistants are not expected to assess anxiety or other mental health problems or to provide counselling support. Instead:

  • Observe and document concerns.
  • Know how to refer students to additional supports at school and in the school district.
  • Work collaboratively with counsellors to provide caring support at school.
  • Work collaboratively with families to provide caring support across environments.
  • Learn about mental health through professional development opportunities and quality resources.

You can download this information in a PDF.