Anxiety problems are common in children and can have profound adverse effects on personal, social and academic life. Almost 40% of anxiety disorders emerge before age 14, making primary schools invaluable settings for prevention and early support of child anxiety. Research indicates that school-based interventions can be costly and difficult to schedule, school staff lack confidence to deliver them effectively, and outcomes are mixed. One solution may be for school staff to adapt and enhance their day-to-day practices to better support children with anxiety. This systematic review aims to summarise what is known about the relationship between teachers’ classroom management and anxiety in primary school-aged children. We searched ASSIA, British Education Index, Education Abstracts, Embase, ERIC, MEDLINE, PsycINFO and Scopus in December 2020 and June 2022, using a predefined strategy. We included studies of any design, published in peer-reviewed journals at any time, in any language, reporting associations between day-to-day classroom management strategies/methods and anxiety/internalising outcomes in children aged 4–11 years, taught in mainstream primary schools. Studies were assessed for quality/risk of bias. We identified eight studies (six quantitative, two qualitative) including 4505 children. We found some evidence that authoritarian, controlling and punitive classrooms may be linked to higher levels of anxiety, although, overall, existing evidence indicates either a weak or no association between classroom management and anxiety. This review highlights a paucity of research in this area. Furthermore, variability in design, measures and quality makes drawing firm conclusions difficult. Recommendations for future research are discussed.
Context and Implications
Rationale for this study
This review explores what is currently known about the relationship between teachers’ day-to-day classroom management practices and anxiety in primary school-aged children.
Why the findings matter
Anxiety problems are common and often start in the primary years, however there is scant evidence to inform primary school educators on how day-to-day classroom practices can be used to better support children with or at risk of anxiety problems.
Implications for researchers and practitioners
This review is relevant for primary classroom practitioners, school leaders, education professionals, academics, researchers and policymakers keen to better understand how to support those with or at risk of anxiety. Although overall findings indicate very small associations between teaching styles/practices and anxiety in children, there is very little research to draw on. Research is urgently needed that uses robust designs to focus on whether specific, feasible, day-to-day strategies can be used by school staff to effectively manage and minimise children’s anxiety problems and, if so, how school staff can best be supported and equipped to deliver them.