Dizziness. Nausea. A racing heart. These are just some of the symptoms experienced by students suffering from test anxiety, a common psychological condition that affects nearly 40% of school-age children. Left untreated, it can lower a student's academic performance and continue into adolescence and adulthood. But there's good news–test anxiety is treatable. Here are some techniques to help children forget their worries and overcome test anxiety for good.
Teach good study habits
Feeling unprepared is a leading cause of test anxiety. Many children need support to learn how to study effectively for a test. Start reviewing material well in advance, and study small amounts at a time. Review sessions should be short but frequent. Flash cards, practice tests, and online games are all excellent studying tools.
Anxious children are likely to ask "what if" questions. What if I forget an answer? What if I fail? Address these worst-case scenario questions, then try to replace them with positive thoughts. Encourage children to wonder what will happen if they do well, instead. And always remember to emphasize the importance of effort, not outcome. Doing your best is more important than getting an A.
Help kids take control
In a child-friendly way, teach kids how to manage their anxiety and take control of their thoughts. Explain that they can "talk back" to worries the way they might talk back to a bully. Repeating key phrases like "these are garbage thoughts" or "my worries are lies" can help children banish anxieties and focus on the test. Some children prefer to imagine locking their worries away in a box until the test is finished.
Relaxation techniques are easy to teach children and are helpful during an actual exam. Exercises that involve tensing and relaxing the muscles can calm a child's body, and deep breathing improves focus. Another useful strategy is to ask a child to think of a special memory that makes him or her feel good inside. Feeling happy or excited or proud crowds out anxious thoughts.
Distraction is one of the most helpful tools to banish anxiety. When a child is engaged in an activity, there is less room in the brain for worrying. The night before a big exam, find something fun to do. Play a game, go see a movie, or take a bike ride.
Keep it healthy
Exhaustion makes handling anxiety more difficult. Set children up for success by making sure they get 8 to 10 hours of sleep and start the day with a healthy breakfast. Both protein and carbohydrates are necessary for kids to stay fueled up all morning long.
Ask for help
Keep the lines of communication open between school and home. There are many accommodations a school can provide, including alternate testing locations or extended time, that can ease a child's test anxiety. And because test anxiety is often linked to other types of anxiety, working with a therapist is a great way for families and individuals to get the support they need to put their worries to rest.