Anxiety and worry look different for and in every person. When one of your students struggles with anxiety, it can be challenging to find the right thing to say – an opener that offers support and encouragement, rather than driving them deeper into their stressful emotions. Here are some helpful phrases to get you started:
“I know this is hard.”
Acknowledge that the situation is really, really difficult. Your validation shows a child that you respect and support them.
“I get scared and nervous sometimes, too. It’s no fun.”
Empathy is critical. It can lead to a productive conversation about how you overcame your own anxiety. It also makes a child feel less like an outcast – or like the only one who has trouble coping.
“Can you tell me about it?”
Without interrupting or judging, listen to an anxious student. Talking it out gives them time and an opportunity to process their thoughts.
“Can you draw it for me?”
If a child can’t find or use words to describe their feelings, then drawing, painting or doodling may provide the outlet they need. When they are finished, make observations and give children a chance to explain the significance of their work; for instance, “that’s a lot of red.” Both talking and drawing may work better with a set amount of time, such as 10 minutes, allotted.
“You are safe.”
This is a very powerful affirmation. When anxiety overtakes them, a person can feel as though their mind and body are in danger. Reassuring them that they are safe can soothe their nervous system.
“You are so brave.”
Affirm a child’s ability to handle the situation, and you empower them to succeed. You might follow this up by gently pushing them to “take just one more step than before” in order for them to feel as though they are making progress.
“Remember when you made it through XYZ?”
Reminding a student of a past success will further encourage them to persevere in their current situation.
“Close your eyes. Picture this.”
Visualization is a powerful technique to ease pain and anxiety. Guide a child through imagining a safe, warm, pleasant place where they feel happy and comfortable.
“Let’s pretend we’re blowing up a balloon.”
Tell your student to take a deep breath. This reverses the body’s stress response. If they panic further and are unable to do so, make it a game. Pretend you are blowing up a balloon. Try making some funny faces or noises in the process to further lower the stress level.
“Let’s count (fill in the blank).”
Counting is an excellent distraction technique. Count the number of books on a shelf, the number of trees outside the window, or whatever other items require observation and thought, which will deter from the anxiety a child is feeling.
“Tell me when two minutes have gone by.”
Another good means of distraction is watching a clock or watch for movement. Like counting, it gives children a focal point other than the cause of their anxiety.
When you’re a school-based therapist, every day poses new challenges and rewards. To further your career and add to your professional resources, contact the Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services team today. We’d love to work with you as you build your future.