Model appropriate behavior for
the student in anxiety-provoking situations
Specify how to react to different situations. When a test paper tears,
get tape or obtain another copy. When a pencil breaks during a test, raise
your hand, resharpen the pencil, or use a different pencil.
- Diminish stress
within school situations
Allow the student to eat lunch in a small group of familiar peers. If uncomfortable
speaking in front of the class, the student may read his or her speech into
- Forewarn the
student of transitions, and have "tasks" for the
student to focus on during transitions
If the student is worried about a school trip, provide
tasks that distract from anxiety, such as checking attendance,
or holding the door at the site.
- Address student individually, outside of class whenever
possible, about fears
Help the student generate solutions to be implemented when he/she is overwhelmed or "shutting down," or in the presence of fear-provoking situations or stimuli. Preferably discuss outside of class, when the student is not already at a high stress level.
- Identify alternatives to avoid unnecessary exposure to anxiety-provoking stimuli
Allow the student to enter school from the side or back so he/she does not have to pass the area where he/she was frightened or traumatized. If the student's parents are divorced, provide writing assignments beyond "family traditions for winter vacation" so the student does not have to think/write about divorce.
- Have the student examine worry/anxiety episodes in a larger context to identify improvement
Help the student examine how he/she has handled similar situations over the past year to see improvement (or conversely, to identify what has changed making it harder to use strategies that worked previously).
- Embed desirable, familiar, or safe content in instruction
Use questions about pets, sports, or preferred literary/TV characters to make new or anxiety-provoking content more comfortable to the student ("What would someone you admire/your hero do in this situation?").
- Add literature (bibliotherapy)
that addresses the student's fears, or exemplifies coping strategies
Use a short story or film that deals with bullying, death of a relative, spending a night apart from parents, or getting sick on a school trip.
- Have the student employ specific problem-solving steps
Model a "Situation-Alternative-Consequences" (SAC) approach for the
student: S: situation identified - A: alternatives
C: consequences predicted.
- Devise a desensitization approach agreeable to the student
If the student fears speaking in front of the class, allow the student to: have the speech read by a peer; read the speech into a recorder outside class; introduce other students doing speeches; do the speech with a peer reading some part. Finally, have the student read his/her own speech.
- Provide group, interactive bibliotherapy activities (group dialogue, peer pairs) that address fears or topics worrisome to the student
Read a book to students and accompany the book with either discussion, role-playing, art activities or creative writing. For example: an adolescent group/pair can compose a diary for a character in a book, write a letter from one character in the book to another, role play an incident in the book with a student taking the part of a key character, or draw pictures in sequence of important incidents in the book.
- Use visuals to help "pace" the student when he/she is anxious about a parent being away, stressed about completing work, or perservating on a particular upcoming event or activity
Develop a "time schedule" with specific symbols that the student places
on a visual board for specific time intervals. This allows the student to see
how much time remains before something is over or before something new begins.
The student's "want" is visually included on the board as the "end
- Have the student practice positive self-talk
Introduce positive "scripts" to practice in anxiety-provoking situations,
such as "break the task down" with "I have done this many times,
so now I'll just start by doing one problem, then checking to see if it's correct."
- Help the student evaluate the evidence for his/her negative conclusions
The student says "I'm worried that people will see what a loser I am if
I play on the soccer team". Ask him/her: "did any good things happen
last time you played soccer? Is there another sport that you play better?"
- Challenge the student's negative cognitions
The student says "I can't go to school because I'm worried people will make
fun of me." Ask him/her: "What do students do when they arrive at
school? Which students are glad to see you?"
- Help the student identify automatic negative thoughts
The student says "I can't let my mother go on the subway. The train might
explode." Ask the student: "What happened the last time your mom took
the subway? Did she come home safely?"
- Help the student examine other perspectives
The student says "I can't go to the school dance because everyone will notice
that I'm nervous." Ask the student: "How would your best friend/someone
you admire handle a situation like this? What does your friend think you should
- Provide the student with competing responses to negative thoughts or behaviors
The student says "I'm afraid I'll start crying in class." Ask the
student: "If you start to feel sad, what can you do before you start to
cry? Can you read something that makes you laugh? Can you distract yourself by
- Develop a consistent
de-escalation procedure familiar to staff
When worried, the student will: 1) take 10 breaths; 2) identify
how a preferred "hero" would handle the situation; 3)
access designated staff; 4) do alternative, less stressful work;
5) do reading for five minutes in an alternative area (corner of
room, library), then answer questions.