The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2018) reports that 12 to 25% of children have anxiety disorders. That is one or more out of every eight children. This equates to potentially three or four students in your class who are carrying the weight of anxiety on their shoulders. Children with this disorder are considered high-risk for academic performance and substance abuse and may have co-occurring disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and ADHD. Oftentimes, their disorder goes untreated.
In your class, you may not notice anything different in these students. However, there is a good possibility their anxiety may come out in different forms. It may look like restlessness, agitation, inattention, crying, and tantrums, among other things. What can you do about it? Research demonstrates that offering movement during anxiety forces individuals to focus more of their attention inwards, resulting in a more conscious control of movement execution. However, students who had a task with higher anxiety took a longer time to complete it and incorporated more explorative movements.
Giving Students the Opportunity to Move
In a typical sport setting where time may be of the essence, anxiety is not always good for the outcome. However, during a classroom task, allowing students more time to complete work (possibly in combination with movement) might meet them where they are.
A number of pieces of classroom equipment may foster students’ attention to body control, which may decrease the anxiety they are feeling. For instance, stability balls have been shown to increase students’ attention and decrease their hyperactivity.
Giving them the opportunity to move may help combat that restlessness, agitation, and inattention that often comes with anxiety. This may come in the form of a structured classroom activity break, or it can present itself in other ways such as standing at the desk while doing work, sharpening a pencil, taking a note to another teacher, and moving to another location in the room to do the second half of a worksheet or task.
Other seating options may include active seating, pedal desks, and fidget bands to fit under a desk. While these are offered from equipment companies, parents and other businesses/organizations are often willing to donate couches, beanbags, and yoga mats to enhance the seating options within the classroom space.
Anxiety.org. (2015). Identifying signs of anxiety in children. Retrieved September 13, 2019 from https://www.anxiety.org/causes-and-symptoms-of-anxiety-in-children
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2018). Facts and statistics. Retrieved September 13, 2019 from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
Fedewa, A. L., & Erwin, H. E. (2011). Stability balls and students with attention and hyperactivity concerns: Implications for on-task and in-seat behavior. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65, 393-399. Pijpers, J. R., Oudejans, R. R. D., & Bakker, F. C. (2005). Anxiety-induced changes in movement behavior during the execution of a complex whole-body task. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58(3), 421-445.
Heather is a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion at the University of Kentucky. She is a former physical education teacher, and co-author of Dynamic Physical Education for Secondary School Children, 8ed. Heather was also the recipient of the NASPE Curriculum and Instruction Young Scholar Award and a AAHPERD Research Consortium Fellow.