Today’s school children face a problem that their parents did not: overtesting. Whether it be a classroom test, or one of dozens of standardized tests, our children are becoming anxious, and even apathetic, to the plethora of endless exams they have to take. Luckily, there are a few simple tools parents can use to help kids deal with the stress and anxiety that comes hand-in-hand with overtesting.
‘Twas the Night Before Testing
Our nation’s kids are exhausted! According to the Sleep Foundation, “…nearly 69% of [teenage] students [get] seven or fewer hours of sleep per night” (sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep). With the majority of tests being given in Palm Beach County around 7:30 am, this lack of sleep does not bode well for the mental and physical stamina needed to perform well. One of the two most crucial steps you need to take to prepare your child for testing is to make sure they get 9-10 hours of quality sleep before any important exam.
While it is common sense that good sleep is important, how do you get your little night owl to bed so early?
Physical Activity – Make sure your child has gotten enough exercise. Take them on a bike ride, to the skate park, for a jog, or a swim. According to cdc.gov, “Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day…”.
Put Away Those Screens – Putting away those electronics (this includes the TV) at least 30 min before bed will help your student get a better night’s sleep. Before big events, I make sure my daughter’s phone is off 90 minutes or more before she is meant to be asleep. If your child likes to read, a good book is a great way to send them off to sleep.
The Morning of
Since most exams start super early, it is important your child wakes up early and has enough time to enter calmly into their day. Although they will most likely fight an earlier alarm clock, giving them the time to eat, relax, and discuss their concerns is vital to sending them to the test mentally prepared to do their best work!
A Healthy, Protein-Packed Breakfast – For laborious mental tasks (like a standardized test), what your child eats really can affect how they perform. Protein is key to the brain’s basic operation so eggs, oatmeal, and even a protein shake is a great main course. Don’t forget to limit processed sugars and make sure you don’t give them too much to eat; picture post-Thanksgiving dinner, no one wants a sleepy tester!
Discuss Your Child’s Concerns – Talking to your tester about the subject of the exam, sharing memories you can recall about your own testing experiences, and ensuring they know that you are aware of how important they have been made to feel this test is, are all great topics to cover the morning of the test.
During the Exam…
Test anxiety is a universal problem that affects most students negatively. Anxiety creates a kind of “noise” or “mental static” that literally blocks the tester from being able to access information in our memory. Fear, frustration, anger, and anxiety cause a disruption in the nervous system which, in turn, disrupts our ability to think clearly. On the other hand, feelings of confidence, pride, and appreciation synchronize the branches of the nervous system, allowing us to think more clearly than normal!
It’s important to teach our children how to self-regulate these negative feelings during times of stress. Try one of these exercises WITH your child so you both can see how these practices help the human body and mind recover.
Going to a Positive Place – The cycle of negative thoughts like “I’m going to fail” or “I will run out of time” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Train your child to catch that negative internal dialogue and replace it by going to a positive place in their mind. I often catch myself getting negative in the mornings, so when I notice it, I redirect my thoughts to something that brings me peace, happiness, or even joy. I often suggest to others thinking about a favorite vacation spot, an intensely fun activity, or something more spiritual, like prayer.
Address the “What If” – A lot of times, test anxiety can come from the fear of the “What if I fail” or “What if I forget everything”? Try switching the “what if” to work FOR you. Turn those negative statements into positive self affirmations: “What if I do better than I have ever done before” or “What if I remember everything and more”?
Breathing Exercises – Anxiety is both mental AND physical so your student needs to know how to calm themselves in a concrete, physical way. Try breathing in for 3 seconds, and breathing out for 5. This type of deep, controlled breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Keep doing the exercise until you truly feel clamer.
Grounding Exercises – Anxiety often puts our bodies into “fight or flight’ mode. This specific technique has worked for everyone in my nuclear family and is a “go-to” for my daughter. Close your eyes. Sit up straight. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Place your palms on your thighs. Take 3 steady, deep breaths. Identify any noise you hear. Identify a smell. Focus on how your scalp feels and describe it to yourself (in your mind). Visualize the stress and fear draining down from your scalp. Move onto the face and repeat the visualization. Move to the neck, then the shoulders, the upper and lower back, your hips, thighs, calves, then your feet and toes. As you address each body part, you are returning to a calm and centered place. Since this is a silent, still activity, no one even has to know you are practicing self-soothing.
Don’t forget that this type of testing anxiety is the “new normal” for today’s students. While it is a stressful business, with good sleep, the right food, an open line of communication, and self-soothing techniques, your child can master the art of managing testing anxiety!