Helping Students With Anxiety Stay on Task

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“I can’t do this! I’ll look stupid and everyone will laugh at me.”

What do you do when a student struggles because they feel or think this way, and no amount of motivation or encouragement helps them push through?

Jessica Minahan, a behavior analyst, special educator, and author, writes extensively on how teachers and other adults can best support students who struggle, especially when they have anxiety disorders, emotional or behavioral disabilities, or autism. In a HuffPost article, she outlines strategies for helping kids with anxiety break through low work production and work avoidance. Tips include:

Dig into the roots. Uncovering what causes a student’s work avoidance can help you help them overcome the stress or difficulty they associate with a task. Is the student too hot, too cold, or tired or hungry? Is he upset about something going on at home? Does avoiding the task at hand fulfill a need or a desire to get attention, avoid embarrassment, or leave the room? Whatever the cause or causes, discovering them gives you a key to solving the problem.

Help the student with initiation. Once you give an assignment or designate a task, you have “a 30-to-60 second window to jump in and assist the students with anxiety to start their work with confidence,” Minahan writes. She also details how to provide this help fast for everyone who needs it when you have more than one student who struggles with anxiety and avoidance. Got a student who needs to overcome negative thoughts about getting started? Try the rating-sheet technique Minahan describes to help that student shift from thinking “I can’t” to “I can.”

For more on these strategies and encouraging persistence, self-monitoring, and help-seeking, check out Skill-Building Approaches to Anxiety-Fueled Work Avoidance.

Also access this podcast interview with Minahan.
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About the Author

“I believe that more often than many people think is possible, we can prevent problems from getting out of control. We can make each other safer.”