The teacher’s role in managing and reducing anxiety among primary school children
Developing and assessing the feasibility of training for teachers and school staff on day-to-day classroom management strategies and techniques that help to manage and reduce anxiety in primary school children.
Part of our Mental Health across the Life-course research theme
As schools are focusing on children’s mental health and wellbeing more than ever, it is so good to hear about research that is clearly designed to be of practical use to staff in their day-to-day classroom teaching’.- Steve Davis, Primary School Headteacher, Cambridgeshire
Anxiety problems are common among primary school children. Those who experience anxiety problems are more likely than their peers to have difficulties with sleep, physical ill-health, confidence and relationships, and school may be particularly challenging for them.
Primary teachers spend approximately 1,150 hours per year with children in their class and are often the first point of contact for families concerned about a child’s mental health. Schools recognise an increasing need to provide ‘in house’ support for common mental health problems, but often lack skills and training to decide on the best course of action.
Whole class interventions specifically targeting anxiety can be effective but may be costly and difficult to implement on an ongoing basis, and fail to address how teachers manage children’s anxiety on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, research shows that how teachers run their classrooms day-to-day (classroom management) can have a positive impact on children’s mental health and behaviour so may also affect children’s anxiety.
This research aims to find out if teachers’ day-to-day classroom management can reduce anxiety in primary school-aged children.
To do this we will:
Undertake a systematic review of existing research to find out what, if anything, is known about the impact of classroom management on children’s anxiety.
Conduct in-depth interviews with primary school teachers, children and parents to understand their experiences related to how children’s anxiety is managed (or otherwise) in school settings.
Develop and assess the feasibility of classroom management training designed to help teachers proactively respond to, manage and reduce children’s anxiety.
How we are involving patients and the public
We will consult with school leaders, teachers, children and parents throughout the project, from design to dissemination.
For example, we plan to use existing contacts and networks to recruit representatives from each of these groups to help us develop and refine research procedures and materials (e.g. interview guides, training materials), and reports to share project findings with schools and the wider community.
We also plan to explore how teachers and/or children could potentially contribute to the analysis of qualitative interview data.
The need for this research was initially identified through Helen Manley's experiences as a primary school teacher: seeing increasing numbers of children coming into school with problems related to anxiety and trying to work out the best way of supporting them led me to question whether others in the profession faced similar challenges. Wider discussion with other school staff confirmed that this was a common concern.
How we are planning to implement the research outputs
We will use findings from this qualitative research to develop training for schools in consultation with other teachers, parents and children to ensure that the training is acceptable, easy to implement in classrooms, and ultimately leads to a reduction in emotional difficulties for children.
We will communicate with schools, academy heads and the Department of Education through policy briefings based on findings at key points in our study.
Should findings from this study indicate that a training programme is warranted, we plan to seek further funding for a definitive trial to evaluate this.
Partners on this project
Project end date:
"Anxiety problems are extremely common and often have their origins in childhood. Schools provide a fantastic opportunity to intervene but it is critical that approaches are developed in collaboration with school staff so that they can be integrated in to their day to day interactions with children. This research is an exciting step forward for school based mental health interventions.’"
- Professor Cathy Creswell, Mental Health across the Life-course theme lead
- To understand whether and how teachers’ day-to-day classroom management can reduce anxiety in primary school-aged children
- To develop classroom management training designed to help teachers proactively respond to and manage children’s anxiety
- To test the feasibility of this training
- Development of classroom management training designed to help teachers proactively respond to and manage children’s anxiety
- The feasibility study will determine whether we are justified in continuing to a full trial to evaluate the impact of this training on children’s anxiety
- Our intention is that the classroom management training will equip teachers with strategies to use in their day-to-day teaching to help manage and reduce children’s anxiety.
- Children and their parents will be better supported, and children will experience less anxiety in school as a result.