Managing Your Child’s (and Your Own) Test Anxiety

Have you noticed your child being upset, inconsolable or apathetic before tests?

They may be dealing with test anxiety, which is a common, yet treatable problem for many children. In this article, I will discuss what exactly is test anxiety, suggestions to help your child overcome their anxiety before test day, what you can do on exam day to help reduce your child’s anxiety and, lastly, what your child can do on exam day to help reduce his/her anxiety.
Test anxiety is the uneasiness and tension that a child feels before, during, or after a test due to uncertainty or fear of failure. Most children experience some level of anxiety during an exam. A little nervousness can actually motivate a child to study and perform well. However, when anxiety interferes with test taking, causing students to “blank out”, have trouble paying attention, and/or limit their ability to think clearly, absorb, retain or recall information, it has become an issue that requires attention.
Physical signs of test anxiety include “butterflies” in the stomach, pain or upset stomach, cold and clammy hands, feeling hot or cold, headaches, nausea, feeling faint, and sleepless nights. Emotional signs of test anxiety include frequent tears or excessive crying, feelings of anger and/or helplessness, irritability, and getting easily frustrated.
These are suggestions to help your child overcome test anxiety before the actual test-taking day:
• Make sure your child attends school regularly so that they are exposed to all the schoolwork that will be covered in the exam, and be part of the regular study review sessions provided by the teacher.

• Doing well on an exam is easier if a student is consistently completing school assignments, homework, assigned reading and participating in regular studying sessions.

• Maintain a healthy lifestyle – help your children get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, have some personal “down time” and a reasonable amount of social interaction.

• Create and maintain a routine at home that will help children to be well rested during regular school days as well as during the week of testing.

• Talk with your children and encourage them to do their best.

• Be well prepared for a test – avoid cramming – help your child develop good study habits and good test taking skills.

• Help your child develop a positive attitude towards test taking – help them develop a “can do” attitude.

• Teach your children to take deep breaths to calm themselves when anxiety levels are high, or utilize calming visualization techniques or meditation.
These are tips that you can do on exam day to help reduce your child’s anxiety:

• Help your child to prepare everything that they will need for the exam the night before – pen, pencil, eraser, etc.

• Do something fun on the night before the exam to distract them like playing a board game, watching a movie, or participating in a sporting activity.

• Set the alarm so your child can relax and get a good night sleep before the exam.

• Make sure your child eats a healthy breakfast on the day of the exam, as the brain needs lots of energy to maintain focus. Foods such as eggs, cereal, fresh fruits and whole-wheat toast to help energize the brain. Avoid foods that contain lots of sugar and caffeine such as soda, cookies, as well as fatty junk foods.
Here are recommendations for what your child can do on exam day to help reduce anxiety:

• Wear comfortable clothing.

• Think positive thoughts – “I can do this”, “I am smart and I know this stuff.”

• As the papers are being distributed, calm yourself by taking some slow, deep, calming breaths.

• If you feel anxious at any time during the test, take a few minutes to calm yourself by deep breathing or stretching.

• If the test is difficult, don’t panic, just focus on completing what you know, putting in your best effort, and not giving up.

• When the test is over – reward yourself with something special, for example, going for ice cream, having a pizza dinner, listening to your favorite compact disc.

Most importantly for you, as your child’s parent, is to model a calm and relaxed attitude and demeanor to your son or daughter. Beyond the testing period, if the problems persist or the symptoms interfere with school performance, as well as general day-to-day functioning, it may be time to seek help and support from a licensed child psychotherapist. The therapist will work with you and your child to explore triggers to test anxiety and ways to better manage anxiety, so that your son or daughter can once again enjoy school and be a happy child.