Reducing and Validating Anxiety in the Classroom
By Ellie Richardson
Anxiety in children usually comes from a sudden turn of events, or a fear of that sudden change happening. This is why it is always important to explain to children what is happening, or better yet, what is going to happen, so that they know what to expect in situations they may not be familiar with.
Today, during my volunteer work, two different children in my group had melt-downs due to a lack of this explanation. The task at hand was to draw the head of a monster, fold the paper over, then pass it to somebody else to draw the body of the monster, and so on. Seems like nothing could go wrong here, right?
Well, in hindsight, nothing would have gone wrong if the teacher had explained the entire activity before the children had already begun to draw their monster heads. You see, the teacher had only told them to draw a monster head at the top of their page; probably with the intention of having the group to be more organized with the activity, only doing one thing at a time. However, some of the girls got very attached to their monster heads, and when they suddenly learned that, not only did they have to part with them, but that they also had to let someone else draw on it too… well, let’s just say that was out of the question.
The teacher, overwhelmed by two crying girls begging for her for some justice for their artwork, got very frustrated with them, simply saying that, “the whole point of the activity was to draw on each other’s artwork,”. This did not help much, for how could they have known that that was the “whole point” of the project when she hadn’t explained it to them beforehand. And now, the teacher was invalidating their anxiety by telling them it was their fault for not understanding the activity, thus, causing them more anxiety.
To try and fix the situation, I went up to one of the crying girls and asked her what was wrong; she told me that she was mad that her friend had drawn a snake’s body onto her vampire head, and I told her: “that really stinks, you drew such a cool vampire.”
By saying this, I was telling her that her feelings of anxiety were valid; after that she was more ready to grasp the matter of her friend drawing on her picture. I explained to her that her friend drawing on her picture was part of the activity (and out of her control), but that she could draw another vampire later if she wanted to. Although she was still upset, I could tell that she now understood the situation, and in a few minutes she was back playing with the group again with a smile on her face.
As adults, it is our job to facilitate play in a way that makes children feel safe and heard, which is especially important when they do not feel that way at home. Providing spaces in which kids feel grounded is what keeps them from developing anxiety disorders, depression, and many other problems. We must remember how much children rely on us to provide the constants in their lives, and let them know when things are going to change. That way, we’ll have much happier, more stable adults to teach the children of the future.