Disciplinary Issues and Anxious Students

Have you ever worried about how to discipline an anxious student? An anxiety disorder is not an excuse for disruptive or defiant behavior. When a student with an anxiety disorder breaks classroom rules, it is appropriate to discipline her in the same way you would any other child. However, some punishments may trigger anxiety or even a panic attack in anxious students, so arm yourself with backup options. A child who panics when sent into the hall may react appropriately to being asked to move to another desk or give up five minutes of recess. If a child does panic during a disciplinary activity, consider allowing the child to calm down before re-administering the punishment. Make sure the child knows that the punishment is not meant to inspire panic, but that panic is not a viable tool for avoiding punishment in general.

It may be helpful to make a list of potential consequences for misbehavior. Then, eliminate any punishment that is particularly likely to inspire panic in your student. Remember, people with anxiety do not all have the same sensitivities. Grouping consequences by potential anxiety-triggers makes it easier to determine which consequences to avoid.

Below is a sample list of disciplinary actions grouped by potential anxiety trigger. Feel free to use your own trusted classroom consequences.

Potential Anxiety Trigger: Humiliation (Social Anxiety)
-Standing/sitting at the front of the class (facing the class)
-Apologizing to the class
-Having the student write her or his name on the board

Possible alternates
-Sitting at the front or back of the class while facing forward (toward the teacher)
-Writing an apology to the class (but don’t have the student pass out the note herself)
-Writing the student’s name on the board for her

Potential Anxiety Trigger: Abandonment/Isolation (Separation Anxiety)
-Sitting outside the class
-Sitting alone during recess
-Staying in a classroom alone (an unusual punishment for any child) or with an unfamiliar adult

Possible alternates
-Any of the above while accompanied by a familiar adult

Consequences that are Less Likely to Cause Anxiety
-“Pulling your card” if the card chart isn’t at the front of the class
-A note home
-Private conference with the student
-Loss of privileges (no access to balls at recess, missing out on a fun activity, etc.)

Use your own judgement when selecting consequences; you already know what works with your students.

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