What is anxiety?

We all worry or feel scared at times, but some kids may worry so much they avoid participating in activities, being with others, or going to places.

Who has anxiety?

Children with disabilities or developmental challenges often have more fears and worries than other kids. They may be scared of specific things, like spiders or mud, or have general worry about what might happen in the future, like getting hurt or failing at school or in sports. They may also be nervous when talking or interacting with other people, requiring more time to feel comfortable. Each child is unique and will need a tailored approach to learning.

What might be some challenges in the dance class?

  • Worried and scared kids usually try and avoid the thing that scares them. This could mean that they avoid or don’t participate in dance classes. They may look nervous or restless, or they may keep to themselves and avoid some activities or people.
  • Some kids who are really scared might have a ‘meltdown’ and cry and get very upset. If they are really worried or scared, they may even stop coming to dance class. Avoiding important activities can result in fewer opportunities to make friends, keep fit and ultimately connect with other kids and the community. Helping kids to overcome their worries can help keep them be engaged and set them on a great life path.

Get parents involved

Get parents involved. Talk to parents to find out the best way to communicate and work with their child. Parents can help you understand a child’s unique strengths and areas they need more help.

Use small groups or buddies

Some kids might need to work in smaller groups to feel safe. Pair or group work can help to include everyone and provide a sense of security.

Match groups by skill level

Matching kids of the same skill level in small groups may help them feel more at ease and confident that they fit in.

Allow time to join in

A child might not be able to join in with the group right away. They may need to join the group in their own time.

Have a consistent lesson format

Set a lesson format. This will help provide structure, and set up behavioural expectations. Students often feel more secure and less anxious when they know what to expect. Make things predictable by having a consistent routine at each session.

Allow kids to select music

Allowing students to choose music for certain parts of the class (i.e., warm-up) can help to encourage participation.

Display a timer or clock

Use a large clock or timer that kids can see at all times to know when the session or activity will finish.

Kids can help choose activities

Where appropriate, allow the kid to have a say in choosing a dance warm-up game or ‘warm-down’ activity.

Use props to engage students

Use props to add tactile or visual pleasure and to support movement qualities, rhythm, and freedom of expression. Common props include scarves, coloured plastic “scarves,” ribbon wands, stretchy bands, rhythm instruments, lightweight balls, and balloons. If a student loves the colour red, let them use a red scarf, red hoop, or red home-base marker in class.

Let parents, siblings or support workers help

Parents and siblings know their child best. They might be able to help the child feel safer and more involved.

Use dance stories

A dance story might be needed to teach a kid a new dance skill or help them join in. These are stories with text and pictures you can find in our resource section.

Allow breaks to calm down

Some kids might get upset if they feel like they haven’t done something perfectly. Allowing them a break or to do whatever they need to calm down may help.

Allow time to calm down

Some kids might need to take time out from the group and have more breaks to calm themselves when they get overwhelmed. Let them to do this whenever they need to.

Parents can help calm kids

Sometimes kids might become angry and upset with other children and the reason for this might not be clear. Giving them a break and getting their parents to help might assist them to calm down. Make sure a clear code of behaviour is known up front and provide it visually.

Interrupt carefully

Some kids might get upset if someone interrupts the way they do something. Try to understand why they are doing something in a particular way. Allowing them to keep doing things their own way or giving them a break might help.

Don't raise your voice

Don’t raise your voice or shout at a kid, as some kids might be very sensitive to negativity.

Have a 'safe' back-up activity

Have a safe activity that the child can do if things become too demanding. This would be an activity that they enjoy and are able to do well. This activity could be encouraged if the kid needs a break or time to calm down.

Consider different roles

Consider different roles: Game play may sometimes be difficult for some kids. Kids can do other roles (e.g. music helper or props organiser).

Things to consider

If a child is scared or worried about an activity and they avoid the activity, the feeling of fear or worry is likely to increase when faced with that situation next time. It is important to identify and understand if a child is worried about something, and to give them support so they can participate. This may mean modifying the activity or expectations in some way, or breaking it down into smaller easier steps. If done in a supportive way, the child will be able to cope a little better each time he or she faces the scary situation. You can help by acknowledging that we all feel scared at times and modelling the brave behaviour.

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