Your child is sitting down to take an exam. His teacher or professor walks by, drops the test on his desk, and he immediately starts to panic. His palms are sweaty, and he cannot seem to remember any of the content he studied. His heart is beating quickly, and he’s starting to feel light-headed. He cannot seem to figure out why this always happens when he sits down to take a test. Does this sound like a familiar scenario for your child? If the answer is yes, the cause might be test anxiety.
The American Test Anxieties Association (ATAA) asserts that the majority of students in the United States report that they are more stressed by tests and homework than by anything else. This is quite a staggering statistic, isn’t it? Test anxiety can lead to a variety of social and emotional symptoms, including school refusal, increased isolation, lower grades and test scores, negative thinking, difficulty concentrating, anger, and disappointment. As you can see, there are a lot of negative effects of test anxiety. Here’s the good news: test anxiety is treatable!
Here are three effective methods to help your child overcome this debilitating type of anxiety:
- Relax before and during the test
When we get anxious, our breathing typically speeds up to signify danger. A lot of the physical symptoms mentioned (e.g., sweaty palms, lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat) start to occur when we feel we are in danger. Once our breathing slows down, a signal is sent to the brain and body saying that we are safe. At this point, other physical symptoms begin to subside. During a test, your child might feel himself becoming tense or nervous. This might be because he feels like he is faced with a dangerous situation! When he feels tension building, he should take a quick relaxation break. Here are a few simple relaxation ideas that you can practice with your child to get him accustomed to utilizing these skills when he is anxious:
- Take several deep breaths, exhaling slowly after each one. Visualize the tension draining from your body as you breathe out.
- Tense your muscles and hold for 5 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times.
- Think of a peaceful, quiet setting (e.g., the beach). Imagine yourself calm and relaxed in that setting.
- Set realistic expectations
Part of your child’s anxiety might be stemming from unrealistic expectations. Help her set a realistic goal, based on past performance of homework and other study materials before she sits down to take her test. If she doesn’t get 100% on her test or exam, that’s okay! It’s important to help her uncouple her self-worth with her score on a test.
- Engage in Positive Self-Talk
If your child has studied effectively, it is likely that his confidence will be shaken if he thinks negative thoughts such as “I don’t have a chance of passing this exam!” You can help your child adopt an upbeat but realistic attitude by helping him replace his irrational negative thoughts with positive self-statements and practicing them before he takes his test. For example, “I prepared carefully for this test. If I do my best, I have a good chance of doing great!” A few other examples of positive self-talk are: “I can do this!” “I am smart and capable!”
While these methods can be practiced together with your child and yield positive results, the help from a mental health professional to tailor a specific approach might be beneficial since each child is unique, with his or her own set of needs.