Parent to Parent: Helping your child overcome test taking anxiety


by Liza Javier

Posted on December 7, 2009 at 10:41 AM

Updated Monday, Dec 7 at 10:47 AM

Does your child get nervous and worried before taking tests? Lots of children do. It’s called test anxiety and parents can help if their kids have it.

A little anxiety can get kids to study. But we’re talking about anxiety that’s out of proportion to the test. It can cause kids to freeze and that’s not helpful.

Anxious kids can’t concentrate or think straight. When they’re anticipating an exam, stressed-out students feel hopeless and overwhelmed. And that can cause them to underperform on tests and be less successful in school.

Test anxiety is becoming more common as the number of state-mandated exams and high-stakes tests (think SATs) increase. And if your kid’s the type to freeze over a spelling quiz, don’t be surprised if the sweat level ramps way up when the test really matters: Midterms. Finals. Anything standardized. When the stakes are high, the worry is real. There’s more riding on this test.

Some kids are just born worriers. Learning and environment are also important, but some of us probably come into the world with wiring that makes us more likely to become anxious.

Some kids also feel pressured by the expectations of teachers or parents. Anxious kids can misread the most well-meaning offers of encouragement. A parent might say, “Just try your best.” The child - who’s actually been trying his best - might hear, “My best isn’t good enough.”

Then there are the kids who just don’t get tests. They don’t know how to prep, don’t understand what’s being asked, or haven’t learned the information in the first place.

What can parents do to reduce the test-stress?

*Teach test-taking
*Take the pressure off
*Talk it out
*Be reassuring

Kids need to understand that taking tests can be learned. Students don’t always answer the actual question or elaborate enough on the answer.Parents and teachers can help these kids by “walking them through” a few tests. Show your kids how to approach a question and understand what the question is asking.

Let your child know you don’t care as much about the grade as about the effort he puts into preparing for the test. Don’t focus on the results of the test. The outcome – even if you feel it’s important, don’t communicate that to your child.

Ask her what she is worried about. Is it that she will disappoint her teacher? Get a bad grade? If so, what does she fear the consequences would be? Help her remember times she has been scared before when things turned out OK.

Tell her everyone gets anxious from time to time, it’s a normal feeling, and it won't hurt her. Most important, remind your child that you will love him no matter what. After the test, plan something fun and relaxing – go to dinner, go get an ice cream.

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