How to Cope When School Anxiety Lingers

If it’s still persisting at this point in the year, it’s a problem. Here’s what to do.

Little boy stares out window in apprehension.
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If students haven't settled into their daily routine by this point in the school year, that's a sign they need professional help – the anxiety has become too intense and lasted for too long. This typically means cognitive behavioral therapy – a technique that teaches skills for handling life challenges or overcoming negative thoughts – or medication; sometimes, a combination of both. "What this therapy involves is helping kids learn the difference between a situation where there's a real danger – meaning that it makes sense to feel fear – and a situation in which they're getting a false alarm," Lagges says. "Once they can tell the difference, we start working on ways to deal with those false alarms."

The school and teachers play a role, too. They have a responsibility to understand anxiety and school refusal, to provide support and to help promote whatever coping strategy has been decided upon. It's often helpful if teachers stay in touch with parents, alerting them to any red flags. Some schools also set up quiet rooms for recess and lunch and even modify the curriculum.

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But what it typically comes down to is getting anxious students to change their thought process, MacMannis says. "There are techniques that teach kids to become the boss of their thoughts," he says. "It's the tale in their head that's the problem, rather than real fears. You have to help kids sort through that."