More and more New Zealand children are being prescribed medication for anxiety disorders, and many remain undiagnosed. – Michelle Nixon reports.


Up to 10-12 percent of children may be affected to an extent that causes distress, nausea, headaches, hyperventilating and sleep disturbance. High-stakes testing doesn’t help. A recent ERO review suggests schools do more to support anxious children. Instead of relying on behaviour management, educators must enable students to become resilient. Here’s some expert advice.

1. Relax yourself
Put your own “oxygen mask” on first – children need to see you as relaxed and accessible. Check out the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing.

2. Safety first
Make your classroom a safe place. Keep to regular routines. Use visual schedules to help children organise themselves.

3. Relationships are vital
Greet every child, have a script ready for the most trying children. Use their name, touch a shoulder, make eye contact (kind eyes) and smile. Slow down for very anxious children.

4. Keep calm and breathe
Have quiet times in the day, introduce breathing exercises like milkshake breathing, mindfulness techniques and yoga. Create rituals that help children. Check out pizza massage and wheatbag lap cushions to ground jittery kids.

5. Get moving
Just 10 minutes of physical exercise can get rid of cortisol in the body and release endorphins. Music and singing can fill the classroom with happiness. Emotionally engaged children learn.

6. Special education
If you’re worried about a child, take action. Discuss with your school’s SENCO, senior leadership team or ask your RTLB where to get outside support.

7. Testing
Keep assessments low key. Don’t give advance notice, just slot them in as part of the normal session.
Do them early when kids are fresh.

8. Positive journaling
Help kids understand they can control their thoughts and feelings. Ask them to write or draw about three positive things a day.

9. Advice for parents
Use your school newsletter or website to provide information about stress for children and parents.

10. Be active
Join in with other active NZEI members. You’ll find support, advice and information at local NZEI branch and network meetings.

– Michelle Nixon