SPARKLERS / Managing emotions

Anxious / Worried

Anxiety and worry have gotten a bad reputation, but they're pretty normal emotions. Here's some tips on how to support tamariki who feel worried – a little, or a lot.
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A bit of background

As adults, we sometimes think childhood is worry-free – devoid of responsibilities and challenges — but it isn’t. Children worry, just as we do, and having worries is a sign of normal and healthy brain development.

Some of the ‘worry with worry’ is that it’s been heavily medicalised and is readily called ‘anxiety’. It’s often thought to need professional intervention but mostly, it doesn’t, and there are lots of things we, as teachers and parents, can do to help.

Inspire (and try)

‘Worry’ doesn’t always look the same. Behaviours can include:

  • Clinginess and/or upset (wearing the emotion honestly)
  • Aggression or bossiness (trying to find some control)
  • Avoidance, disengagement or defiance (trying to escape)
  • Questioning or attention seeking (attempts to find distraction or comfort).

In the moment
Gently reassure tamariki (but not too much) and either distract them with a task, or ask them to work through some Tummy Breathing.

Keep normalising emotions
Normalising worries can be hugely helpful because sometimes tamariki don't want us to know they're struggling, and hide how they're feeling. It can help for kids to know that having worries is totally normal, and can serve a purpose.

Help kids understand worries
Understanding the important purposes worries served for us in the past (and can continue to serve today!) can help kids understand and work through them. Check out Worries 101.

Practice techniques for managing worries
Help tamariki learn techniques for working through worries, with our managing emotions activities. We also love these printable breathing exercises which allow tamariki to choose the technique that suits them best.

Enquire (and notice)

Parents and whānau are usually well aware of their children being ‘worriers’, and just quietly will probably be worriers too.

Welcome them into your plans so tamariki can practice any strategies at school and at home. Our parenting guides How to help kids manage worries and ‘How to help kids feel good and have fun’ may help too. There are also some fantastic resources online and books galore, all of which are great for both home and school.

Plan (and reflect)

A child who worries, also has wonderful strengths. These might include humility and prudence Sometimes we get caught up in thinking that a child IS that emotion. This is especially true of anger and anxiety. We often hear: "He’s an anxious child".

Think about ways you personally can see beyond this and build their self esteem – point out what they’re good at and include activities that bring these strengths to the fore.

Sometimes anxiety (especially if it is school-based) is paired with learning differences such as dyslexia. If people find reading and writing challenging and are faced with a whole day of it, that is always going to be anxiety producing!

This is worth bearing in mind and ensuring that tamariki who find some subjects and activities challenging have appropriate supports. Our tips for the classroom may help.

Review (and follow up)

We love the Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) approach and encourage working in this creative and strengths-based way.

We’ve adapted their Encourage Positive Behaviours model for Sparklers and recommend making this your 'go-to' for further analysis, and as a matter of fantastic practice!

Encouraging positive behaviours via a classroom and whole school approach... how cool is that?!

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