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Tips for Helping Students with Special Needs Deal with Stress

written by: Barbara • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 7/12/2012

Let's face it, stress is everywhere. However, students with special needs may experience an increased amount of stress due to academic and behavioral challenges in the classroom. Teachers can incorporate social learning strategies dealing with stress as a natural inclusion in lesson design. Read on.

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    Stress Strategies for the Classroom

    Stress in mainstream or self-contained classrooms can be real or perceived; a physical or emotional reaction to actions in the classroom for students with special needs. Irrespective of which is the case, teachers can provide strategies in dealing with stress in the classroom.

    Good Stress/Bad Stress - students should be taught that there are two types of stress; good and bad. The student's perception of an action or behavior can precipitate whether the stress is good or bad for them. If a student is presenting a speech in front of the class, the stress can be either good or bad. The apprehension and feelings of not being successful can create a flight syndrome that feels bad. However, if the student delivers the speech and realizes that everyone in the class is applauding and saying "good job," the bad stress can suddenly turn into good stress where the student feels pumped and invincible.

    Managing Stress - stress is an inevitable part of living. Teachers can show students how to practice meditation, visualization and relaxation techniques in the classroom. Having a 2-minute quiet time with or without relaxing music can create a different learning atmosphere. Teaching students how to close his/her eyes and practice counting techniques or just how to be still when stress starts to build can be helpful for everyone in the classroom. Another technique that teachers can create for students with special needs is to create an area of the classroom as a "time out space" where students can go without distractions and take five minutes to regroup and settle stressful nerves or stressed encounters with peers.

    Journaling Stress Triggers - helping students to identify stress triggers in written format can help put a name to issues, communications or behaviors that may trigger off-task behavior. Remember stress triggers are as individualized as the student. Stress for one student could mean speaking in front of the class, yet for another, it could mean taking the weekly math assessments. Once students figure out their stress triggers, they can journal the trigger and propose a constructive action in addressing the trigger. If a student is always late to class, students can can ask trusted adults for help in keeping track of the time. Students can also not stop at the locker on the 3rd floor in between classes, especially when the class is on the 1st floor. Figuring out the trigger can bring obvious solutions.

    Creating Rules for Stress Triggers - once students have identified their stress triggers, have them create an area in their reflective journal, where they can identify physical, social and emotional behaviors. For example if students have test anxiety, and their physical reaction is one of avoidance (i.e. they skip the test-taking days); their emotional behaviors might be being easily angered; and their social behavior is creating a disciplinary referral to be removed from the classroom if they don't skip, then students can create rules for this example. A sample rule could be "Tests make me smarter" or "Tests are my friend."

    Constructing Lessons that Involve Physical Activity - instead of constructing a 40 minute test assessment each week that forces students to sit at their desks for 40 minutes sweating through information that may or may not recall, teachers can create "knowledge bowl" testing situations, where the class forms three teams, A,B & C or Blue, Green and Red, and each team competes for class prizes by answering the greatest number of questions totaling the highest points. Grades can be calculated with the highest scoring team earning 100 pts, the 2nd scoring 90 pts and the 3rd team scoring 80 pts, so that all students are winners on this assessment.

    Effective teaching strategies include social learning inclusions that deal proactively with ways to handle stress in the classroom. In a stress controlled classroom, both teachers and students are winners in learning outcome.