How do I recognise anxiety in boys I teach and what can I do about it?

The worrying news that boys are becoming increasingly more anxious about their appearance, recently highlighted by The Children’s Society, is just one of the growing pressures faced by school children.

The charity’s Good Childhood Report, found that one in 12 boys are unhappy with their appearance, with those over teen_boy_looking_in_mirror13 significantly less happy than 10-12 year-olds. While this in part was blamed on Instagram, the conclusion that children are now less happy with their friendships and school, shines the spotlight on some of the more modern-day worries of children growing up today.

Anxiety is tricky to spot. Lots of children are anxious and this doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem. Sometimes the anxiousness lingers and starts to become an issue. It can be hard to know if it is a problem or not, especially in younger children and in boys who tend to be more physically active than girls.

Occasionally anxiety can cause children to find it hard to focus and concentrate and stay still. Sometimes these issues can lead to a conversation about ADHD diagnosis when anxiety was the problem all along. Equally there might be no issue other than children are not being given enough opportunity to ‘move’ in school and are being expected to sit all day at the age of five or six, which isn’t ideal. We know that children and young people are supposed to be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day, with additional, more strenuous activity to develop bones and muscle strength for at least three days a week.

With any mental health concern, an age appropriate view is important in considering whether to be concerned. Behaviours that are classed as developmentally ‘normal’ can also change over time. Sometimes anxiety in boys can be recognised by physical signs such as restlessness, recurring complaints of headaches or stomach aches, looking ‘wired’ or hyperactive, and problems sleeping.

However, anxiety can come out in other ways such as oppositional and defiant behaviour. If they feel anxious about going to a PE lesson, they might refuse to get dressed. They may deliberately do something to get attention, to get told off and ‘delay’. One thing to always consider is whether there has been any change which could have made the anxiety feel more overwhelming. This could include a house move, a change in financial circumstances or a bereavement. The key here is to open a dialogue with their caregiver.

Also talk to the pupils and ask questions in a kind yet curious way; helping him name the problem is the first step to working through it. Let him realise that he’s being anxious. Role modeling and mirroring the behaviour and the ‘calm confidence’ you want to see is crucial. Also it sounds simple but chunk things up like we do with teaching and learning and breaking goals up into manageable steps might be useful too.  For example, just going to a PE lesson to watch, or attending for 20 mins could help. This is a useful tip for parents too.

The most important thing for you to know as a teacher is that you can be a huge part of the solution when it comes to anxiety. Children will look to you for calm and confidence, and to role model that it’s okay not to be okay some days. At the Alliance for Learning teaching school not only do we deliver Mental Health First Aid Youth courses, but alongside those, Mindfulness training sessions too.

Mindfulness is an important part of mental wellbeing; it can help us understand our emotions and feelings better in a fast-paced world. Practising mindfulness regularly can help reduce stress and improve mood and it can help us to listen more attentively, communicate more clearly, increase self-awareness and the awareness of others.

While many anxiety struggles begin in childhood and adolescence, the good news is that we understand anxiety in young people more than ever. Spotting the signs early and ensuring individuals get help sooner rather than later can make a huge difference.

For more information about our courses visit:

Alliance for Learning
Cavendish Road, Bowdon
Altrincham WA14 2NL
Proud to part of the Bright Futures Education Trust