Children can display anxiety in various ways. Some children will become emotional, cry and may refuse to engage. Some children will run away, possibly into danger, and others may lash out physically or verbally.
These reactions are collectively called Fight, Flight and Freeze response. This is a physiological response to a threat in the environment, a response that maximizes the body’s ability to either face danger or escape danger.
Managing feelings and emotions is a very complex skill for children to learn and they need to learn the physiological changes in their bodies and what they mean.
When a child is anxious they can display behaviours such as dropping to the floor, refusal to try something, not listening to instruction. These are typical Freeze responses from the body.
Shouting, kicking, biting, swearing and pushing are signs that a child is anxious about something. Their brain has gone into Fight mode because they feel there is a danger in their environment. It is at this point that the child is not necessarily angry, but may actually feel scared and fearful of their environment.
Children who suddenly run away, particularly when in a crowded place or by a main road, have been tipped into a Flight response. Their body has received an extra boost of adrenalin and has caused them to run away from what they feel is immediate danger.
Children who are disruptive in class can also be experiencing anxiety, and many learn to use behaviour as a way to escape a situation that they find uncomfortable. It’s so important that we understand that all behaviour is a form of communication. What is the child communicating via their behaviour, how can we meet their need?
Teaching children mindfulness and positive breathing techniques can be a simple way to support an anxious child. Talking to the child about the changes in their body when they are anxious, and helping them to recognise sweaty hands and a fast heart rate means that it’s time to try some deep breathing.
Giving children positive affirmations and positive statements to repeat will also help them to take control of their brains when anxiety strikes.
Once a child is able to manage their anxiety, behaviour naturally improves.
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