*Photo courtesy of Ashley Sanchez Photography
Blank Space. Slipped My Mind. Frozen.
No, I am not channeling Taylor Swift, The Doors, or queens with magical ice powers. I am talking about what happens to all of us when we are caught in the throws of anxiety. We have that moment when we know the answer is on the tip of our tongue but it just won’t come out! It never comes. It’s just a blank space (baby).
If you are a parent of a school-aged student, you know that standardized testing season is fast approaching. While, most kids will experience a range of fear and anxiety for quizzes, finals, or the dreaded standardized test, there are some who will experience straight up panic. Moderate levels of situational anxiety, especially test anxiety, is normal and should be expected to some degree in most children. In fact, it is actually a good thing to have some anxiety from stress. Stress is our body’s way of speaking up and asking us to pay attention to something. This “good anxiety” can motivate us to push a little harder, study a little longer, go to bed a little earlier, or eat a more nutritious breakfast on test day. However, if gone unchecked, overwhelming anxiety can negatively affect your child’s motivation to prepare, his enthusiasm to accept the challenge, and of course cause a drop in grades or lack of success on tests.
As parents we all want our children to enjoy the feeling of success and accomplishment that comes as a reward for their hard work. But, we also know that we cannot prevent them from feeling anxious. No matter how well prepared, smart, confident your child is, you can be sure nervousness can interfere, if it hasn’t already, with their confidence and test performance.
Warning Signs That Your Child Has Test Anxiety
- Significant loss or increase of appetite
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Reports feeling nauseous, stomach pain, headaches, or body aches (tension)
- Experiences sweaty palms, racing heart, or is shaky
- Has episodes of intense crying or a “meltdown” in the days prior to testing
- Put themselves down with name calling such as, “I am so dumb!”, “I never do well on these things”.
Strategy For Staying Calm
Anxiety is fueled by negative thinking; the more we think negatively, the stronger the nervousness. Studies show positive self-talk is a powerful antidote for all kinds of anxiety. Even preschool age children can be taught positive statements about their strengths, helping them cope in all sorts of uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking situations. Therefore, help your child learn to focus on good, positive statements that will counteract the negative cycling. Remember, this is a life skill you are teaching them. We are raising them to be adults aren’t we, not stay children, right? Right?!
Some of these statements could include things like:
- “I can trust myself.”
- “I am smart and I can do this.”
- “I may get stuck, but I know this and I can come back to it.”
- “I am calm, focused, and in charge.”
- “I am doing my best and that is good enough.”
- Offer to help them study. There are many types of learners and it may help your child say the answers out loud to another person. Ask them to teach you or make a Jeopardy style game for them. Kids love positive reinforcement so why not reward them with small treats for correct answers. I’m talking M&M’s or Skittles, not Xbox games here people.
- Adequate rest is essential for successful test taking and for learning of all kinds for that matter. Sleep is one of the most important components of your child’s overall development. (Proper nutrition is the other biggie) Help your child get to bed on time by not over scheduling their week. Missing one or two baseball games in third grade isn’t going to hurt their chances of getting a scholarship or being drafted. (Trust me, I’m a baseball wife.)
- Avoid, or strictly limit, iDevices, excess television, and video games in the days prior to the testing, especially before bed. These can be a distraction to the learning process.
- Remind your child that it is their best that matters, not the score. Avoid comparing previous years’ tests or another sibling’s results as a motivating factor as this often increases the pressure kids feel. Teach your child to accept mistakes as an opportunity for learning. If you have a child who consistently struggles with anxiety, is a perfectionist, or has a difficult time getting over their mistakes, consider seeking professional help. Children, and adults, with these traits, may struggle to accept when they have made a mistake, big or little, and can inadvertently self-sabotage. This is fertile ground for anxiety to multiply like gremlins in water and can be a threat to healthy, balanced living.
These common anxiety interventions, along with deep breathing exercises and consistent encouragement from family, can help your child successfully manage their test anxiety. As parents, we must have an awareness of what is happening with each of our children. If you notice your child’s anxiety interfering with their education, social, or personal development, seek counseling. Often times the anxiety can decrease in a short amount of time, not to mention provide valuable resources for stress management beyond test taking!
Remember, be positive, patient, and persistent!