Understanding Childhood Anxiety in a Classroom Setting

Understanding little hearts: How to explain anxiety to a child

As a preschool teacher, one of your most important roles is helping young children navigate not just learning activities but also their emotions. Anxiety, a common emotion even among little ones, can sometimes be a challenging concept to introduce and manage. Explaining anxiety to kids requires sensitivity, understanding and age-appropriate language.

This blog will help guide you on how to explain anxiety to a child and provides activities and exercises to support children in dealing with anxiety.

Anxiety definition for kids

Before diving into how to explain anxiety to a child, let’s start with a simple anxiety definition for kids: Anxiety is like having butterflies in your stomach and feeling worried or scared about something. It’s normal and happens to everyone at times. This anxiety definition for kids is a great starting point to build conversations around.

How to explain anxiety to a child: The basics
Explaining anxiety to young children can often feel like trying to simplify a complex, abstract concept. However, this is essential for their emotional development and resilience. Below are three strategies you can use for addressing anxiety in the classroom:

Use simple, relatable language: One of the most effective ways to explain anxiety to children is through the use of metaphors and similes relating to their everyday experiences. By comparing anxiety to familiar feelings or situations, children can more easily grasp the concept. For example, you might describe anxiety as similar to the nervousness they feel when starting a new game or the jittery excitement before going on a fun school trip. This approach makes the abstract nature of emotions more concrete and understandable. You can say, “Anxiety is like when you’re waiting to see if your friends are coming to your birthday party – you feel excited but also a bit worried.” This not only provides a clear, relatable scenario but also introduces the idea that it’s normal and okay to feel this way sometimes. Analogies like these help demystify the feeling of anxiety, making it less intimidating and more manageable for young children.

Validate their feelings: An essential part of explaining anxiety to children involves validating their feelings. It’s important for them to understand that feeling anxious is a normal and universal experience, not something they have to face alone or feel ashamed about. When a child expresses feelings of anxiety, acknowledging their feelings with responses such as, “It sounds like you’re feeling really worried about this, and that’s okay. I sometimes feel worried too,” can be incredibly reassuring. Highlighting that everyone, including adults and their teachers or family members, experiences feelings of anxiety at times, helps normalize these emotions. This reassurance can be a huge relief to a child who may feel isolated or different because of their anxious feelings.

Storytelling: Incorporating the use of stories is an effective method when it comes to explaining anxiety to kids. Children are naturally drawn to stories and can learn a great deal through the experiences of characters they come to know and love. By crafting or choosing narratives that include characters facing and managing anxiety, children can gain insights into their own emotions. In these stories, characters might encounter situations that are likely to be familiar to children – starting at a new school, dealing with a big family change or even feeling nervous about a school performance. As these characters navigate their anxious feelings, the story can demonstrate healthy coping mechanisms. For example, a character might take deep breaths or talk to a trusted friend or adult to manage their worries.

Activities to help children understand and manage anxiety

After exploring how to explain anxiety to a child, it’s important to provide them with activities to help manage their feelings. Below are a number of tools designed to help children recognize, express and control their emotions effectively.

Breathing exercises: Teach children to take slow, deep breaths when they feel anxious. Incorporate playful activities like blowing bubbles or balloons, which naturally encourages deep breathing.

Feeling journal: Encourage children to draw or write about their feelings. This activity helps them recognize and name their emotions, a crucial step in explaining anxiety to kids.

Anxiety corner: Create a quiet, comfortable space in the classroom where children can go if they feel overwhelmed. Equip it with calming tools like soft music, sensory toys and storybooks.

Role play: Engage kids in role-playing exercises to act out different scenarios. This can help them express feelings and develop coping strategies.

Yoga and mindful movement: Simple yoga poses and mindful movements can help release physical tension associated with anxiety. Integrating these into daily routines can provide long-term benefits.

Worry box: Have students write or draw their worries and place them in a “Worry Box.” Regularly open the box to discuss these worries, helping demystify and manage their anxieties.

Explaining anxiety to kids is an integral part of your role as an early childhood educator, but it isn’t always straightforward.

For preschool teachers looking to deepen their understanding of this topic, CCEI offers From Chaotic to Calm. This course provides you with an understanding of childhood stress and gives information, activity ideas and tools for easing children’s anxieties and worries in the classroom.

Through patience, compassion and the right activities, you can help your young learners understand and cope with their feelings of anxiety. Visit CCEI to learn more, and make a difference in the hearts and minds of your young learners and browse our entire catalog of professional development offerings