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Coping with anxiety in the classroom

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Judith Locke

on 12 May 2014

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Transcript of Coping with anxiety in the classroom

Student anxiety: Reasons and solutions
Judith Locke
Clinical Psychologist

The psychological term for
excessive sensitivity, fear, worry
fear that is extreme
or greater than the situation demands
Often a
belief that you cannot cope
with an imagined or real event
Anxious people
can't tolerate uncertainty

It is prevalent...
Most prevalent

category of issues in children
(At age 11, 10% have diagnosable anxiety)
This figure appears to be

Issue is more prevalent for

Is it often
parent-diagnosed and not treated properly
- there are many problems with this

It is often presenting as

unrealistically high standards
Rigid adherence
to these standards
in terms of achieving those standards
You achieve them? Set higher ones.
Can involve
other people's reactions

wanting them to
react in a certain way to you
which would confirm your own standards or expectations
Well intended



maintain and increase

Fear rises
Next Event
Fear rises
Fear drops
Can be self-generated through one's
Or perceived expectations of others via previous praise
But can be encouraged by
other people's beliefs, expectations and reactions

of the person doing well
Treating the worry as if it is
and needs to be highly examined

removed from the situation
to reduce the fear (by themselves or others)
Doing it / Solving it for them
Reassuring them


Blaming another person
Modern parenting and anxiety
...The Perfect storm
avoiding it confirms they couldn't cope with it
and the
attention/reassurance they get encourages more fear
when they face it the next time
everyone can do well
pressure on students to be successful
Children being
centre of the family - so highly observed
(which increases their anxiety)
They are
made happy very quickly

through being

through being
by the other person
reducing their expectations
To learn how to cope
you have to
face the fear
Live through it, not escape
You learn
that you can
with it,
that it
isn't so bad
/not being perfect / being wrong is
not the worst thing
Next time the fear is not so great
helping a student face fear
is actually
the most caring act
Child/teen anxiety coming from
A+ parenting
Low demandingness
Child doesn't achieve high expectations?
Parent steps in and helps child do things
avoid failure
in child
insists others help child achieve success
(e.g. friends, teachers, coaches)
Parent (inadvertently)
stops child from learning how to do things or how to cope
with things
Extreme responsiveness
high attention
to child and (perception of) child's needs
Belief child is
always right
Attempt to make child
always happy
Desire to be
very close to child
(often being child's 'friend')
Extreme demandingness
High emphasis on and expectations of child's
school and social achievements
High expectations of child
remaining close to parent
(e.g. by phone, as friends) and
not individuating from parent
Locke, Campbell, & Kavanagh, 2012
My research shows teachers now have
High levels of
emotional responsiveness
to students
High levels of
High desire to
make students feel special
main responsibility for students doing well

Reduced comfort with correcting
Ways to address these issues
Parenting sessions early enough to encourage parents to build their child's resilience and coping skills
Consider a good education to involve building academic buoyancy and acceptance of strengths and weaknesses not just super-success
Encourage teachers and parents to deal with student worry in consistent ways to encourage students to face fears and learn how to deal with life's challenges
When faced with an emotional student, teachers often...
Allow them to
for a long time
Mirror their emotion

with them about unfairness
it for them
All strategies
look like a caring approach
BUT they
don't allow the student to face the situation and learn that they can cope
The strategies
don't promote academic buoyancy
Better ways to deal with emotions

You might
justify the decision unemotionally
(only once!!) Avoid apology

Well it is a teacher’s/my job to enforce school policy”

If they continue complaining,
summarize their situation

You are frustrated/angry because you forgot your assignment and that's understandable

You might ask Socratic questions ("
Would it really be so bad?

Terminate the conversation soonish
(not your job to calm them)

Well there's not much you can do now, it's maybe time to move on”
“I’m not prepared to discuss this anymore”

The definition of success at school
While academic success is important, it is
not the only definition of a school's, a teacher's or a student's success

Too much
on academic success encourages
fear of failure

OP/ATAP actually does not predict anything about their future
Carol Dweck in "Mind-set"
"Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence
- like a gift - by praising their brains and talent.
It doesn't work, and in fact has the opposite effect.
It makes children
doubt themselves
as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong.

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to
love challenges
, be
intrigued by mistakes
enjoy effort
, and
keep on learning

Academic buoyancy
- students' ability to successfully
deal with academic setbacks and challenges
that are
typical of the ordinary course of school life
(e.g., poor grades, competing deadlines, exam pressure, difficult schoolwork)

Academic buoyancy is more important for future wellbeing than academic success
(Martin & Marsh, 2006; Martin, 2013)
For academic buoyancy focus on the internal
Emphasize the process
hard work,

of the journey
importance of failure
/ poor results as a learning opportunity
When talking to (often anxious) parents
Of course I understand you love your daughter and want her to succeed in this.
But, if I (changed the outcome), then the
message I am giving your daughter is that she can't cope with difficulty and she needs to be rescued
- that message is not a good for her long term wellbeing
By facing this she is going to learn
that it
isn't so bad
, that she
can cope
and through
her own efforts
next time, she can hopefully improve the next situation
That to me is a
more important skill
for her to learn
I have every
confidence in her
that she can face this and I would encourage you to have that confidence in her too

anxiety plays a pivotal part in reducing academic buoyancy
Sometimes the best message for students ...
You are
acknowledging their difficulty
but you are promoting the fact that
they have to accept and deal with it

with pained face
Avoid focusing on the external

(e.g. academic results or prizes)
ask students what they have learned
and in what way they have

Avoid the strategy of
applauding loudly and reprimanding meekly
Embrace the
bell curve
When is it time to get the student help?
When their
worry is impacting on their wellbeing
Treatment needs to
involve parents also
Gains should be relatively fast
or treatment risks having secondary gain
Making a mistake,

not being perfect,

not being liked,
forgetting an assignment,

not getting an A,

being corrected,
not getting on the team,

not being the lead.
Being about to
face something
or do something
Mini actions : Assisting the reduction of anxiety
Acknowledge misdemeanours
when you see them as a statement, not a question
Don't third party/triangulate
the request
"You are going to get in trouble with ___ if she sees that necklace"

Being corrected is not the worst thing
Fears and worries are normal
When a student expresses a fear,
don't rush to reassure them
Normalise it
That's normal, many people feel that way

What you fear is not so bad - you'd cope
Promote acceptance
of the feared consequence or fact, rather than reassure them it won't happen;
be shruggy about it
That might happen, but you'd cope and it wouldn't be the worst thing
Resulting in student
poor resilience
reduced life skills
poor self-efficacy
, and a
sense of entitlement
What is overparenting?
On schools to
make students successful and happy
teachers to be highly responsive to students

Tendency for
parents to step in and overhelp
Tendency for parents to
expect teachers to do the same
Results in
high pressure
not being removed, not being reassured
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