By Debra Collins, Family therapist
My first-grader has terrible test anxiety. Every Friday she has a spelling test and does not seem to get upset over it, but if I or the teacher tells her she is having a test any other day she gets very upset.
She will worry until the day of the test and then cry until we leave for school. I try to review the work with her to show her that she knows it. But she just gets upset and won't listen. I do not tell her I expect perfect scores. I always tell her I expect her to do her best. Is this normal in first grade? How can I help alleviate her anxiety?
Here's the good news. Your daughter figured out how to take a spelling test every Friday and not get upset. That's a positive start and suggests that she doesn't necessarily have "terrible test anxiety." She may just need help in discovering how she was able to do that in order to generalize these methods to other subjects and situations.
It may be that she likes predictability. It gives her a sense of control. However, exploring other possible worries would also be helpful. For example, it might be the subject matter that makes her anxious, not the test day.
It is hard for any of us to get talked out of our feelings. But learning coping strategies for our worries can eliminate some stress and help us perform better. You can try reading storybooks with characters who worry to help her see how others cope. It doesn't have to be the same issue to be affective.
You can be curious and positive about her ability to take spelling tests, and marvel about how she was able to accomplish this. This can help her identify her strengths and ability to solve problems. Then guide her to using these same skills in a new situation. You can ask the teacher how she helps children prepare for tests, so that you replicate this at home. She may be confused about studying, the testing process and what it means to "do her best." Some teachers do not teach testing skills in first grade and others do. Knowing what the teacher's expectations are around testing would be helpful in guiding your own expectations.
If your child's anxiety escalates to school refusal, or additional fears, you should seek professional guidance from the school counselor or a child therapist for further assessment.
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.
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