Tag Archives: mindfulness

Dealing with Students’ Anxiety in the Classroom


Anxiety by Mariana Zanatta is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common disorders to impact children (McLoone, Hudson, & Rapee, 2006). There are a number of different types of anxiety that children can typically present with, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Phobia, Separation Anxiety Disorder, and a few others. In addition, there is a high degree of comorbidity with anxiety, meaning the diagnosis of other disorders, such as ADHD in conjunction with an anxiety disorder (McLoone, Hudson, & Rapee, 2006, p. 224). This has important implications for schools and teachers because having a student with some type of anxiety disorder is common (10-21% of all children) although they are often undiagnosed (McLoone et al., 2006, p. 221). Until a child receives formal treatment, typically cognitive-behavioral therapy (McLoone et al., 2006), classrooms teachers are left to use their own resourcefulness and basic classroom accommodations to support anxious children.

I took time to learn more about childhood anxiety disorders this past week and then paused to reflect on the ill-structured problems teachers and students might experience when these disorders are present in today’s classrooms. An ill-structured problem occurs when a variety of different variables come into play uniquely with a problem, meaning that each variable needs to be examined and considered in-context, before the problem can be solved and even upon reaching a solution, the problem will likely manifest in new ways in other contexts (e.g., with a different child) and require a different solution (Spiro, Coulson, Feltovich and Anderson, 2004).

Some examples of ill-structured problems in a classroom with an anxious child might be, trying to meet the needs of all children at the same time and dealing with the competing wants of young first graders who need to stand up and move around (maybe through an active, responsive classroom greeting like “hit the floor”) and a child who feels overwhelmed and extremely worried about being the center of attention. A similar situation could arise for a child who has separation anxiety and has a difficult transition into the classroom each morning. Unfortunately, if a teacher is trying to warmly welcome each child as he or she enters the room and help the children start their morning work and possibly deal with other behavioral or emotional issues of other children, it would be difficult to also support a child who is crying in the classroom each day after separating with her or his parents. Therefore, the teacher is left with an ill-structured problem that needs to be addressed.

Luckily, I think technology can be a great tool to help assist teachers with these tricky ill-structured problems. One app in particular that came to mind for me was Stop, Breathe, & Think, a free mindfulness app that was designed for students. Mindfulness training has been shown to be an effective approach to helping students with anxiety disorders (Semple, Lee, Rosa, & Miller, 2010). Although there are a limited number of studies of mindfulness with young children and in a school setting, existing research clearly shows benefits for adults (Semple, Reid, & Miller, 2005). Research also suggests that when materials are adapted to be developmentally appropriate for young children (e.g., shortening meditations, adapting the language that is used), clinical levels of anxiety show a significant decrease (Semple et al., 2010).

The Stop, Breathe, & Think app is great because it prompts students to do a self-assessment each time they use it to explore and name how they are feeling in three distinct categories: mentally, physically, and emotionally. This can help students identify their feelings without judging them and come to better know and accept their thoughts and feelings (Semple et al.,  2010). With younger students, the app could be used as a support tool for one-on-one meetings or conversations between a teacher and an anxious child. Over time, it could become a go-to resource that the child could use whenever he or she wants support in dealing with anxiety, for example, before speaking in front of the class, when leaving for a field trip, or after participating in a high-stress group activity that might drain an anxious child. Older children (middle-high school) could probably begin using the app independently from the outset and could be encouraged to download it to their own device. Check-out the screencast below for a more in-depth review of the app.

Would you add this app to your teacher toolbox as a resource for your anxious students?

What about for students who might need support learning to redirect their attention or improve self-regulation?


McLoone, J., Hudson, J. L., & Rapee, R. M.. (2006). Treating Anxiety Disorders in a School Setting.Education and Treatment of Children, 29(2), 219–242. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42899883

Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: Promoting mindful attention to enhance social-emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 218-229. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/10.1007/s10826-009-9301-y

Semple, R. J., Reid, E. F. G., & Miller, L. (2005). Treating anxiety with mindfulness: An open trial of mindfulness training for anxious children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19(4), 379-392. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.msu.edu.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/89071356?accountid=12598

Spiro, R.J., Coulson, R.L., Feltovich, P.J. & Anderson, D.K. (2004). Cognitive flexibility theory: Advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In R.B. Ruddell, N.J. Unrau (Eds). Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading (5th Ed., pp 640-659). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Using Tech to Ground & Engage Your Classroom

Often times, technology is touted as either a solution to the problems in education or a growing concern we need to address as students spend more and more time in front of a screen. I want to touch on the idea of tech as neither a solution or a concern, but simply a tool, and a great one to have in your classroom when you want to create a positive environment.

I have found technology to be invaluable tool in helping me keep track of tasks,  organize my schedule, and maintain a good work-life balance as an educator and a professional. Apps like Lift, Headspace, Wunderlist and Supercal, provide support in building new habits, meeting goals, being more mindful and keeping track of everything that’s involved with coordinating technology at my school. I think it’s important to introduce similar, developmentally appropriate, tools to our students to help them see how they can use technology as a tool in their school and home lives to stay healthy and organized.

GoNoodle Brain Breaks

Hurdle Stretch

Stretching Before the 100M Hurdles

I recently learned about a new tool called GoNoodle that offers a variety of free brain breaks that you can use in the classroom. It’s ideal for elementary students but I think some of the activities could be used with middle or even high school classes that need a break or some exercise. One of the things I love about the tool is that it provides different types of breaks (e.g., calming, energizing, focusing) and most of the activities range between 2-5 minutes long. This means that I can easily squeeze a GoNoodle activity into my Maker Club agenda after school or even during a short thirty-minute tech time with students.

Since GoNoodle is web-based, I can access it from any computer, regardless of what classroom I’m in and it really seems to help students get ready for work, especially after recess, when they’re a bit wound up, or at the end of the day when they’re starting to feel tired.

GoNoodle allows you to set up a classroom (or multiple classes if you teach more than one) and choose a Champ to act as your class character/avatar. The champs grow as your class completes more activities, motivating students to participate and try new brain breaks.


GoNoodle has been particularly helpful with my Maker Club students because at ages 5-8, they’ve already had a long day when they come to see me after school and as much as they want to dive into making, they’re often feeling restless, wiggly, and tired. We often do activities with Maximo, who guides the students through yoga poses and helps them focus, or we do one of the Zumba activities to get everyone up and moving! If you have a longer block of time or indoor recess (we have had a lot of them this winter!), you could easily combine a few activities together and get closer to increasing your class champ level.

Using GoNoodle Video

Since I have also been exploring mindfulness for the past year, I really appreciate the “Airtime” break because it helps my students gain an awareness of their breath and take time to just breathe. A number of classes at my school have started using GoNoodle for brain breaks and I’m excited to see each class grow their own champ and begin to develop their favorite brain breaks, just like they have favorite greetings for morning meeting.

GoNoodle is also running a fun contest this month on Pinterest where every week, a teacher will win a GoNoodle Madness classroom pack! To enter, you can pin an image in this post or anything from GoNoodle.com and then tag your pins with @GoNoodleBreaks and #GoNoodleMadness!

Stop, Breathe & Think

If you want to go deeper into mindfulness with your classroom, the Stop, Breathe & Think app is another wonderful (and free!) app that you can use. It prompts students to first stop and assess how they’re feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is something older students could do independently or younger ones could do with the guidance of a teacher.

You can choose up to five emotions from an extensive list, organized on a spectrum from happy to angry, and then the app provides a list of suggested mediations in response to those emotions. Each meditation is between 3-9 minutes so if you’re short on time, you can always choose a quick one from the list.

The app provides an audio-guided meditation that eases the listener into and out of the meditation with student-friendly language. Similar to leveling up with the GoNoodle champs, you can earn stickers as you complete more meditations in the app. If you can sense a certain mood with a specific student or among your class, you can also go into the app and choose any of the meditations from the list without filling out the self-assessment.

I think the app could be great to use as a whole class in the morning or after lunch and it could also be nice as a center or even for individual use, if you have devices available that a child could take to a corner to find some “headspace” if they’re feeling unsettled.

What kind of brain breaks and activities do you use in your classroom?

Do you have a favorite tech tool you can share to help teachers engage their classroom and create a positive learning environment?