Three Tips for Lowering Anxiety

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Guest writer, Kathryn O’Shea, is an experienced teacher who uses the Cracking the ABC Code programs with students experiencing difficulties with reading, spelling and writing living in Manning, Western Australia and surrounding areas.

Anxiety and being easily distracted are common traits among children experiencing difficulties with reading and spelling. Three quick tips that I find useful:

  1. Acknowledge their anxiety: I ‘check-in’ with anxious students at the beginning of each lesson to see how they are feeling. If there is an issue, I work with the student to determine the area of the body in which the anxiety is located (e.g., “Is your stomach hurting today? Have you eaten breakfast? Would you like to use a heat pack?” or “I can see your back’s hurting. Would you like to lie on the ground and pull your knees up to your chest?”).  It is also useful to discuss with students strategies that they have previously used that effectively alleviate the pain.
  2. Be empathic: I find it is useful to let students know that feeling anxious is not uncommon especially when a task is difficult or unfamiliar. I have found that sharing with students that I used to have the problem too helpful. I go on to elaborate and say what I found helpful and discuss with them strategies that they have found works for them. I also reassure that as their reading and spelling improve, the ‘sick feeling’ will go away.
  3. Use distraction: Often a student’s anxiety will reduce if you are able to provide an activity that takes their focus away from the task. This works best when the activity can be completed in a few minutes, rapidly reducing the student’s stress levels and enabling them to return to the task.
  • Use a kaleidoscope. This activity requires no movement or sound and turns the student’s focus to the movement of the coloured pieces inside the kaleidoscope.
  • Juggle using scarves. Begin with just two scarves and add in a third as the student becomes more competent.
  • Place a dot in the middle of a piece of paper. Ask the student to focus on the dot and time how long he/she can remain focused on the dot. The student has lost focused as soon as you see his/her eyes move. Repeat the activity one more time and see if the student can extend his/her focus. You could also do this just as a staring activity.
  • Have a one minute physical activity break.
  • Use a calming bottle filled with water and glitter. The student shakes the bottle then breathes deeply and slowly as he/she watches the glitter drift to the bottom.