Beating Test Taking Jitters

April 02, 2015

Having worked in Austin Independent School District schools for several years prior to entering private practice, I always think about state testing as we enter April. I remember the increased level of anxious tension that seemed to rise in everyone – students, teachers, and administration alike – as test day approached. I remember teens coming into my office with stomachaches, headaches, and deep senses of self-doubt. Administration seemed to run around a bit more frantic and fragile during test taking periods.

How I wish the measurement of students’ success was in how excited they were about learning, how much they talked about what they learned outside of class, and how engaged they were in the classroom. I wish teachers were measured by the enthusiasm, dedication, and creativity with which they taught.

Nevertheless, we are in an age where tests matter. That being said, I thought I might offer a few suggestions if your children are experiencing an increased level of anxiety related to test taking this spring.

  1. Teach and encourage the use of relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or imagery. For example, you can teach your younger children to fill up their belly with air like a balloon and blow out slowly or you can have them take a few deep breaths through a straw to help simulate what it’s like to slow down your breath.
  1. Use technology for your children’s’ benefit. Smiling Mind is a helpful phone app to guide meditation exercises. You can designate the users age to find appropriate relaxation and mindfulness techniques for child.
  1. Encourage your child to exercise on the days leading up to the test and eat a balanced meal on test morning – one without a lot of sugar or caffeine. (Make sure to look for hidden sugar in cereals and yogurt)
  1. Get creative with positive self-talk and encouragement. Try putting up Post-it notes around your house with little reminders of how you believe in your child’s ability to succeed. You can also help them make some themselves to encourage positive self-talk. They might say, “I know you’ve got this test down.” “Your hard work is going to pay off.” “You will be calm and relaxed during your test.” “My hard work is going to pay off when I take this test.”
  1. Make sure to reinforce to your child that your love is unconditional. Assure them that your love for them is not dependent on academic or test performance. Remind them that you love them simply because of who they are and that they are yours. Let your actions reflect this as well as your words.
  1. Practice what you preach. If you want your child to attack life’s stressors with a calm mind, then model this for them as well. Let them see you managing your stress with mindfulness techniques, exercise, positive self-talk, etc.

Happy Testing Season!

Written By: Christel Gilbreath, LCSW


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