As first quarter of school approaches across the country, many students feel the stress of term papers, projects, and final exams. Developing healthy and efficient strategies for homework and studying are essential for stress management and school success. Here are some tips for students and parents to get through test anxiety from expert, Laura Paret PhD, Child and Adolescent Psychologist.
How to Coach Your Kid Through Test Anxiety
- Make a plan
Many people, students and parents alike, are fond of making to-do lists. Making a proper plan can help both concentration and productivity. Break tasks or study materials into manageable sections, with time estimates of how long each task will take. Compare you or your child’s time estimate with how long the task actually took for better planning in the future. Work in blocks of time (15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes) and allow yourself or child 5-10 minutes to completely break when the timer goes off. Note that getting up and moving, listening to a song, or grabbing a glass of water all might be more helpful and restorative than screen time!
- Build mental toughness with self-talk and relaxation techniques
Study in an optimal environment, whether that’s alone and in silence, with loud music, or with a tutor or peer. Use the external environment that works best for you or your child to stay focused. Internally, determine what kind of coping talk helps you or your child the most, e.g., “You can get through this,” or “You’ve been this stressed before and the test went fine.” Reminders of core strengths (e.g., honesty, humor, or friendliness) can also help you or your child to feel more grounded and confident in the face of academic pressure.
Furthermore, relaxation techniques, such as abdominal breathing, visual imagery and muscle relaxation strategies, are your friend! These are techniques that you or your child can use to combat physical sensations of anxiety or stress. Figure out which one works best to soothe discomfort and practice it 3-5 times a day so that you or your child are ready to use this skill to calm down when needed.
This site has a lot of great training videos and audio clips to help you or your child to determine what works best for you. Practice, Practice, Practice!
- Be mindful and compassionate towards yourself and others
Negative thinking is hard to challenge on test day, but remember that thoughts are just thoughts, not necessarily facts! Challenge doomsday thinking by noticing unhelpful thinking and offering compassion for yourself or your child’s experience. Pay attention to the difference between compassion and reassurance. Reassurance can sometimes come across as dismissive, e.g, “It will be fine,” in comparison to offering compassion for yourself or child, e.g., “Anyone would feel the way that you are feeling right now, but try not to be hard on yourself; you’re doing the best that you can given the circumstances.”
I hope you find these tips on how to coach your kid through test anxiety helpful. Have you tried any of these tips for overcoming test anxiety? Which are your favorite?
Keep in mind, if these strategies do not seem to be working and dealing with anxiety is interfering with school performance, it can be helpful to consult a guidance counselor or psychologist. Approximately 10% of younger students experience clinically significant anxiety. Give these strategies a try and if you or your child are still struggling, don’t hesitate to search for additional help.