Helping Children Deal with Test Anxiety
By Jennifer Hatcher, School-Based Mental Health Therapist at Phillipi Shores Elementary School
It’s officially testing season in Florida, which can bring about stress and anxiety in school children, causing them to act out in ways they may not understand. If not addressed, these feelings can have a negative impact on their test score. While your child cannot control much about the actual test, there are some ways you can help them feel prepared and techniques you can use to calm them down so they have the best results possible.
I recommend helping your child prepare for the ‘big day’ by completing the following tasks:
- Practice calming activities days before the test.
- Get a head start the night before by packing their backpack and laying out their clothes.
- Be sure to send them to bed early and get them up on time.
- Serve a healthy breakfast the day of.
- Practice saying positive and encouraging words they can use to build themselves up before and during the test.
You can also use calming strategies to help your child keep their cool before, during and after the test.
- There are several breathing strategies I use to help students calm down. Bear breathing is where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4-5 seconds, and breathe out for as long as possible.
- For balloon breathing, you link your fingers on your head, breathe in several times to fill your lungs while you raise your arms, filling an imaginary balloon. Finally, breathe out slowly as you drop your hands mimicking a deflating balloon.
- Blowing candles is a favorite among students. It consists of raising 10 fingers and asking your child to blow out the candles as slow as they can.
Exercise and movement can also affect focus and attention. Regular physical activity also improves concentration and motivation, decreases hyperactivity and impulsivity, and improves memory. Go outside for a run or run around a piece of furniture if you have to stay in. Creating obstacle courses is a fun way to get moving! Bounce on a ball, jump rope, or ride a bike.
Help your child replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Positive messages sends information to our brain that everything will be okay and that we can get through hard things! A simple note inside their lunch saying, “You can do this, I believe in you,” can be all the affirmation they need.
Talk about Feelings
Use understanding and supportive language to let your child know that you are going to be there for them and help them in any way you can. Phrases like, I’m here for you” or “Talk to me and tell me what’s going on” and “How can I help?” are all great ways to get the conversation started.
Using these techniques will ensure your child is emotionally, physically and psychologically ready for testing. Now go break a leg!