Evidence-backed program empowers students to overcome anxiety

Evidence-backed program empowers students to overcome anxiety

With recent studies showing a worrying decline in student mental health and wellbeing, schools are ramping up efforts to address this by partnering with various universities, mental health organisations and other leading specialists.

Parentshop was founded in 2003 by Child and Family Psychologist, Michael Hawton, as a resource hub for parents, educators and child and family specialists. It has since grown to be one of Australia's leading professional development training organisations and parenting resource hubs.

The company’s Resilience in Our Teens (RIOT) project helps teachers understand how anxiety develops so they can counter it before it worsens, while also providing them with practical steps to build resilience thinking in teenagers.

RIOT lessons are currently taught within the PDHPE curriculum or as a one-day whole school ‘RIOT day’ where the teachers intersperse the materials with game and activities throughout the day.

“The lessons have been differentiated for different stage-groups and to meet the developmental needs of students. There are seven generic lessons centred on how to help students be the ‘boss’ of their anxiety,” Hawton told The Educator.

“I have a book called The Anxiety Coach that can be given to teachers but there are specific lesson plans provided for teachers, to teach students how to control their anxiety.”  

Hawton said there are several ways in which teachers and leaders can evaluate the effectiveness of the program in reducing anxiety and increasing resilience among students.

“In the RIOT project, there are measures taken at Time 0 on teachers’ abilities to identify and manage student anxiety, as well as measures taken about levels student levels of anxiety,” explained.

“Time 1 measures show that teachers’ confidence levels to identify and manage student anxiety increase by over 100%, respectively.”

Hawton also pointed out that student information collected via the program is only held by the school itself, meaning students and parents can be assured the data collected is in safe hands.

“Because the RIOT project is not a generalised wellbeing project, it is only aimed at reducing anxiety, using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy principles with an early intervention emphasis. CBT is the main evidence-based treatment modality for treating teenage anxiety.”

In addition to its resources for teenagers, Parentshop has also been addressing anxiety in primary-aged children through The Anxiety Project, an initiative motivated by the findings of an Australian Primary Principals’ Association (APPA) survey in 2020.

The Anxiety Project delivers evidence-based training programs for 58 schools involving 62 school leaders, 87 specialist implementation coaches, 986 teachers and approximately 3,828 parents.

“We can see parents at times being less willing to challenge or guide their children through uncomfortable emotional problems, compelled instead to take their children’s pain away or solve problems for them,” Hawton said.

“If parents know what to do instead, they can use simple strategies to help their child deal with anxiety.”

Hawton said it has long been suspected that adult ‘accommodation’ of anxious behaviour from children is making things worse rather than improving student outcomes.

“The key learning and skill building for students, parents, and school staff through ‘The Anxiety Project’ will assist them to recognise anxious behaviours and how best to respond, overcoming accommodations and helping students to improve their resilience.”