Taking TAKS test this week? Help Kids Deal with Test-Related Stress
Does your child worry, get anxious, sick to his stomach or refuse to go to school when it is time for a big test?
According to Kidshealth.org, “Children who become anxious at the thought of a test often feel convinced they are going to fail. Test anxiety occurs for many reasons, such as lack of preparation, fear of disappointing the teacher or parents, or low self-confidence.” The statewide TAKS test are taking place in April across Texas and many children feel the pressure to perform or are afraid they won’t be able to pass their grade level if they don’t do well on the TAKS tests. There are a variety of ways that parents can help their children to overcome test anxiety and certain coping skills they can teach their children so they learn to manage their anxiety in stressful situations both inside and outside the classroom.
First, let’s look at what parents can do to help the child.
1. Help your child be prepared. Find out when the test dates are. Find out if the tests are different in style or format from the ones they took previously. I know that most schools offer the students opportunities to take practice tests so the kids can familiarize themselves with the process and the content of the exam. If your child is particularly nervous, ask for some practice questions or sample content to be sent home.
2. Take care of your child’s emotional needs and concerns. Find out whether your child is feeling nervous and if so, why. Often children feel better when they voice their fears, so give your child a chance to talk about the process. If your child is afraid of failing or doing poorly, your reassurances will help him feel less frightened. More information can be found at: www.greatschools.org
According to Dr. Caron Goode, parents should not try to fix everything for the child, and avoid offering advice. Sometimes just listening so that your child feels truly heard may be enough to relieve the stress. As you listen, ask questions that encourage your child to think a situation through. “What’s the next step?” or “How would you handle that?” are good questions. Ask a lot of “what-if” questions, too. Help children listen to themselves: encourage them to spend time listening to their thoughts. When they feel free to speak their own thoughts aloud about a situation, things suddenly become clear.”
It can be a challenge to just listen. It’s difficult to watch our children suffer but what children need most is a safe place to express their fears and worries without judgment or interruption.
3. Take care of your child’s physical needs. Make sure they get a good night’s sleep several nights in a row and that they have a good breakfast the day of the test. It is difficult to take a test on an empty stomach. Many schools offer free breakfast the morning of the TAKS exams, take advantage of this to make sure your child eats.
4. Another great tip from www.GreatSchools.org is to teach your child the following, calling it the A-B-C-D Rules for Test Taking:
• Always read the directions twice.
• Breathe in and out 5 times to relax.
• Carefully read the questions and answer the easy ones first.
• Don’t hand in the test until you have double-checked your work.
5. Keep your own cool. Remind yourself and your child that tests are just one measure of student learning, so try to keep the process in perspective. If you remain calm, chances are your child will probably feel calmer, too. I remember my son coming home very worried about his first TAKS test. We knew he would not find it difficult but in his mind it was an unknown. We just reminded him how well he was doing in school, how smart we know he was and that whatever happened, he would be fine. Our calm reaction helped him to remain calm and he successfully passed his first reading TAKS.
Tips for teaching children to manage stress:
“Don’t overlook exercise for releasing stress and tension. It works for your child just as it does for you. Have children walk the dog, get on the treadmill or stretch. Any movement they enjoy will help ease stress away,” says Dr. Caron Goode.
Teach them to ask for help. Make sure your kids know they can come to you at home, talk to their teacher or counselor at school and that help is available. Sometimes kids are embarrassed to share or admit that they are afraid. Create a safe place for them to share their feelings, no matter what their age.
I like this tip for kids from www.kidshealth.org, “Watch what you’re thinking. If expecting to do well on a test can help you relax, what what will people do that expect they won’t do well? Watch out for any negative messages you might be sending yourself about the test. They can contribute to your anxiety.”
If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts (“I’m never any good at taking tests” or “It’s going to be terrible if I do badly on this test”), replace them with positive messages. Not unrealistic positive messages, of course, but ones that are practical and true, such as “I’ve studied hard and I know the material, so I’m ready to do the best I can.” (Of course, if you haven’t studied, this message won’t help!)”
Also from www.kidshealth.org: Teach your kids to accept their own mistakes. If your child is a perfectionist or tends to be hard on herslef, help her find ways to relax and to learn to tolerate small failures and mistakes. Educate her about the concept of failure being a learning opportunity. The story of Thomas Edison is a classic example: he never saw any of his failed attempts to create electricity as failures but as lessons in what not to do the next time.
Explore the best ways for your child to relax: There are many simple breathing exercises you can do with your kids to help them relax, like simply breathing deeply and slowly from their belly several times. Listening to music, talking a walk, calling a friend — those are healthy diversion techniques. Distractions are okay when they help a child to manage her stress the night before an exam.