Children of all ages get nervous around test time. For some children, tests create feelings of stress and anxiety. Some may feel physical symptoms of stress, like stomach aches, nausea, or headaches while others may seem fatigued, nervous, or panicky.
Test anxiety: Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety — a feeling a person might have in a situation where performance really counts or when there is high pressure to do well. A child with test anxiety worries in advance about doing poorly, sometimes to the point of dreading going to school on test day.
We often think of test anxiety as something that only teenagers experience, but in reality, children of all ages can experience the challenges of test anxiety.
Here are a 6 steps you can take to help your child tackle their worry and anxieties around test time:
1. Ask questions
Talk to your kid and try to understand their concerns and worries. Sometimes, the process of saying their worries out loud helps children work through their concerns. Ask questions like: “How do you feel when you first see the test?”, “What’s your biggest worry about the test?”, “How can I help you prepare?’
Questions like these will help you understand why your child is anxious about the test and will help your child pinpoint what is causing their anxiety.
2. Teach and practice relaxation techniques
Practice mindfulness techniques to help your child find some go-to techniques that help them relax. For little kids, consider practicing visualization exercises. Ask your child to close their eyes and identify a place where they feel happy and relaxed. Encourage your kid to share details about the place they imagined, including sights, sounds, and scents. As your kid shares, encourage them to take deep breaths. When your kid is feeling stressed around test time, remind them to close their eyes and visualize the calming, “happy” place.
For older children and teenagers, practice breathing exercises. Consider square breathing or meditation exercises. These strategies will help your kid reach a sense of calm and build skills for self-soothing. Remind your child that they can tap into these new skills when they’re feeling anxious on test day.
3. Help prepare
If your child needs to study for the test, help them create a study schedule—studying in chunks will help make the task more manageable and less overwhelming. Studying in chunks, over time, will also help your child retain more information. Remind your child to take breaks, to get outside, rest, or spend time with a friend or pet that makes them feel happy and relaxed.
Help your kid find a study method that works for them. Some kids like flash cards, while others do well with writing notes or discussing the material. If you’re unsure what might work for your kid, ask your child’s teacher for ideas based on their experience with your child.
4. Focus on the positive
Provide honest and specific praise, and remind your child that success is possible regardless of the outcome of the test. Doing a good job preparing is already a win. Notice things that your kid is already doing well, and be sure you encourage them. Try to avoid constant reminders about the consequences of a poor test score.
Remind your kid that they have done everything they can, and what is most important is that they do their best and give it their all.
5. Reinforce healthy habits and help your child feel good on test day
Encourage healthy eating, good sleep habits, and activity on a daily basis. Don’t reserve them for just the day of the test—help your child practice healthy habits all year long!
Prior to test day, ensure your kid gets enough rest. Be mindful of screen time, and try to encourage older kids not to cram into the late hours of the night. Be sure your child takes all necessary medications, and try to provide a protein-rich breakfast, like eggs, rice and beans, nuts, yogurt, cottage cheese, or oatmeal.
6. Debrief after the test
After the test, ask your child how they think it went. Ask questions like “did you feel prepared?,” “how did you feel while taking the test?,” “how do you feel now?”. Remind your kid that they prepared, did their best, and the test is over.
If your child feels like the test didn’t go well, remind them that setbacks happen, and take the moment to remind them that through mistakes and challenges they learn and grow stronger. Normalize both positive and constructive feedback.
Keep these strategies in mind to help your child overcome their worries and anxieties around test time.