Before he’s even buckled, he says “Mama, we have our big test tomorrow.” The mood is set. I can feel his tension, my dear child with test anxiety.
He jumps in the van, as he does every day. He’s our silent, but OH SO emotional tween.
His experiences from the school-day are fresh when he gets in the van. Everything he felt, heard, saw and learned is on the forefront of his mind. I know I have two minutes to catch a glimpse into his school-world. If I let more time pass, I will have missed the opportunity to hear about his trials and triumphs.
He’s stoic on the outside. But at the same time, he feels things more deeply than his brothers. When he does open up it’s a Pandora’s box of emotions that overflows.
As soon as he gets in, before he’s even buckled, he says “Mama, we have our big test tomorrow.” The mood is immediately set. I can feel his tension.
I wait for him to continue. I am careful not to project my own feelings about tests.
“I am nervous, mama.” I glance at him in the rearview mirror. His wise and warm hazel eyes are staring at me, expecting to meet my eyes. I smile and say “I understand you are nervous, honey. Do you remember what I always say to you?”
He rolls his eyes, because that’s what tweens have to do when their moms say something remotely sweet or “mushy.” “Mama, you tell me that you are proud of me, to focus and that I don’t have to be the best. I just need to work hard.”
I struggle to contain my laughter, but it feels so good when I know the kids DO listen to what I tell them.
Tonight, we talk about his upcoming test a couple of times, whenever he feels the need to talk about it.
Test anxiety is real and it can impede the best student from showing his full potential.
However, test anxiety IS something you can help your child manage, not just during test-taking-season, but throughout the year.
Tests are a part of their regular school schedule. Start these exercises and healthy study habits early in the school year, so when test season hits, you are both prepared to manage any increased anxiety.
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10 Tips to Help Your Child Manage Test Anxiety
- Respect and validate your child’s feelings. Anxiety is a real emotion and it can be all-consuming.
- Teach your child to recognize their anxious feelings and when to start self-soothing techniques.
- Try this challenging dialog to manage anxiety throughout the school year:
- Conversation starter: “Tell me what you are thinking?” (let him talk and you listen without judgement or interrupting – this is hard, I know!)
- Let your child share their biggest fear, their “worst case scenario.”
- Ask them: “How likely is it that ______ will happen?” This will teach your child to challenge their anxious thoughts.
- Try not to interject with “don’t worry, this won’t happen” – because to them their feelings and fears are real. Saying “don’t worry” doesn’t remove the worry. They need to work THROUGH their feelings and thoughts.
- Further the conversation by asking your child: “Let’s think of some ways to handle the situation. What are your ideas?”
- Together you can find solutions to their problem, but let your child lead the conversation. The more they actively participate in this brainstorm to problem-solve, the more empowered they feel.
- Practice problem-solving throughout every-day life.
- When your child knocks over a cup of milk, don’t run and grab the paper towel. Without getting upset (it is just milk, after all) ask them calmly how they can resolve the problem.
- Give your child opportunities for small wins whether it is problem-solving or being brave.
- Celebrate their wins with praise, high-fives and hugs.
- When they “fail” to be brave or solve a problem, acknowledge that it happened, but don’t put emphasis on it – and show them that you move on. Model positive behavior.
- For parents:
- Validate their feelings, but don’t throw them a pity party.
- Buying into their anxiety only shows them that there IS something to fear.
- This your child’s experience, not yours.
- Instead say:
- “This is ONE test, taken on a random day. It’s a snapshot in time. It doesn’t give anyone a complete picture of who you are.”
- “We are proud of you.”
- “Work hard and stay focused.”
- “We will celebrate your hard work tonight.”
- Stay positive and optimistic, but be authentic.
- Don’t let your own school experience, anxiety and nervousness show.
- Write your child a letter. Our son’s teacher had every parent send in a letter in a sealed envelope. This letter was for the kids to open right before they took their test. It was a wonderful feeling, knowing that the last thing he read before the test, were my comforting words.
- Don’t say “do your best”, which can lead to further anxiety. (Your child hears you say “only the best is good enough”.)
- Validate their feelings, but don’t throw them a pity party.
- For kids:
- Study the material in small increments in the weeks and days leading up to the test.
- Give your child a quiet study environment without distractions.
- Run a mock-test with the same time constraints as they will have during the real test.
- Don’t pull an “all-nighter” or cram the material the day before.
- Study for the test using good study habits. Being prepared gives confidence.
- Remember the importance of sleep and exercise. Kids, especially, need to move their bodies to in order to reduce stress and increase their focus.
- Get a good night’s sleep for several nights leading up to the test.
- The day of the test, eat a full breakfast and wear comfortable clothes.
- During the test: (practice this throughout the school year):
- Read the directions carefully.
- Don’t rush. It’s not a race to see who finishes first.
- Answer the easier questions first, then work through the harder ones.
- Outline essays before writing full paragraphs.
- Don’t look around at the other kids. Focus on the task at hand, nothing else matters.
- Remember to belly breathe when anxiety kicks in.
- Seek professional help if your child’s anxiety becomes unmanageable.
- Getting help early on in your child’s school career can make a world of difference. They will learn strategies to implement throughout their life. A little counseling goes a long way.
- If you are in the Palm Beach County area, I highly recommend Heather Medford from “Life Coach For Kids”. She was an elementary school teacher for ten years before she decided to go into practice as a Life Coach. She has a unique ability to understand and connect with tweens and teens. She helps them reach their greatest potential. Heather is a tween and teen-whisperer.
I am excited for school pick-up this afternoon. I know the tween jumping in the van will feel a huge weight off his shoulders. His first words to me will be “Mama, I had my big test today!” We will then head straight over to the bakery to pick up his favorite cup cakes, a treat I promised him this morning before he got out of the van.
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