Anxiety can be defined as apprehension or excessive fear about real or imagined circumstances, characterized by intense worry. At a young age, children may be anxious or fear specific, identifiable things such as animals, the dark, or specific people (i.e., clowns, a bully, etc.). As children get older, their fears may become focused on more abstract things including bad grades, peer rejection, losing friends, fitting in at school, etc. Children who suffer from anxiety disorders experience much more severe worry that interferes with daily functioning. The worry or fear is often so great that they can not focus on other activities enough to be successful.  

Within the category of Anxiety, several different types of Anxiety exist: 

  • Separation Anxiety is characterized by excessive clinginess to an adult caregiver. This type of anxiety is seen more often in younger children. These children generally fear the loss of a caregiver (i.e., the parent may not return) or fear something bad happening if the parent is not there to protect them.
  • Generalized Anxiety s characterized by worries and fears that do not appear to be attached to a certain event or object, but occur across situations.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is characterized by anxiety which develops as a result of experiencing a traumatic event (i.e., loss of a loved one, physical or sexual assault, disaster, etc.). These children may experience flashbacks of the event.
  • Social Phobia is characterized by fears or worry about being in social situations.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterized by obsessions (repetitive thoughts) and compulsions (need to repeat specific acts). These children may fear that something bad will happen to them or someone they love if they do not perform a certain ritual (i.e., washing hands, locking and re-locking the door, etc.).

What are the symptoms of anxiety? 

  • The following are common symptoms of anxiety. Not all children will exhibit all symptoms, and not all symptoms automatically indicate a child is suffering from anxiety. If a child is exhibiting one or more of the following to a significant degree, which impairs the child to function successfully, a medical or mental health professional should be consulted for further evaluation. 

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Concentration difficulties
  • Overreaction and catastrophizing relatively minor events
  • Memory problems
  • Worry
  • Irritability
  • Perfectionism
  • Thinking rigidity
  • Hyper vigilant
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of failure
  • Difficulties with problem solving and academic performance

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Shyness
  • Withdrawal
  • Frequently asking questions
  • Frequent need for reassurance
  • Needs for sameness
  • Rapid speech
  • Excessive talking
  • Restlessness, fidgety
  • Habit behaviors, such as hair pulling or twirling
  • Impulsiveness

Physical Symptoms

  • Trembling or shaking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems

How does anxiety impact classroom performance? 

  • Children with anxiety may have difficulties with school work, especially tasks requiring sustained concentration and organization. They may seem forgetful, inattentive, and have difficulty organizing their work. They may be too much of a perfectionist and not be satisfied with their work if it does not meet high personal standards. 

What can be done at school? The following are offered as general classroom suggestions: 

  • Maintain a consistent and predictable classroom environment, including discipline style and clear expectations
  • Remember that anxiety is not willful, but often times uncontrollable. Do not punish a child for the inability to control his or her symptoms
  • Provide advanced notice for changes in schedules or routines
  • Identify a safe place for the child to go when his or her anxiety level increases or becomes overwhelming
  • Offer flexibility regarding time lines and amount of work when possible. If a child feels a need to continually erase and re-write words on their paper, often times he or she will not finish the assignment in a timely manner.

Other resources? The following are good resources about anxiety: