How Do I Help a Child Who Worries About Tests?
By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
My daughter is smart, outgoing and funny, but can be a bit serious at times. Although she is doing well in school, above grade level in reading, language arts and math, she gets nervous and anxious at the mention of the word "test."
Even though she does well on her school work and homework, she panics on her tests and makes silly mistakes. She doesn't read the directions correctly, she rushes to finish the test so she is not the last one to finish, or she can't think straight because she's too nervous so she gets wrong answers to questions she already knows. Can you give us some ideas as to what we, as parents, and she can do to help with this situation?
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. Fortunately, there are lots of things parents can do to help.
Enlist the help of your daughter's teacher. Ask about test-taking skills taught in the classroom. Once you know what she has been taught at school, you can review the same strategies with your daughter at home, reinforcing the learning.
Help your child feel prepared before tests. At least a week before a test, help your daughter study a little every day, using different methods. These can include making flash cards, writing and rewriting key words, making up a "mock" test, or even having her teach you the material. Teach her 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.
On the day of the test, make sure she is well-rested and has eaten a healthy breakfast. Make sure she has sharpened pencils or other materials she will need.
After the test, praise your daughter for her hard work and help her celebrate with a special activity, such as taking a walk or playing a game together. Don't put too much emphasis on her grade and don't feed in to her anxiety if she gets upset. Instead, when the test comes home, approach it nonchalantly, reviewing errors and talking about ways to improve next time.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.