No need to panic: Six ways to help your child handle test stress

Lorraine Allen

THE WASHINGTON POST – With the excitement of the new school year worn off, your child might be experiencing something else: stress.

Thinking about tests can make your child’s stomach ache or heart pound. They may remember a previous exam that didn’t go perfectly and worry, “What if I can’t remember the answers?” or “What if I don’t do well?”

The truth is that everyone feels a bit anxious before being tested, be it during a history exam, football tryout or musical performance. The key is managing those nerves.

Here are several simple, effective tips from experts to help your child control their emotions and do their best:

Practise strategically

Having the information and skills they need to succeed is key to managing self-doubt and avoiding failure. So above all, tell your child to study well ahead of time.

“Practise doing exactly what you’ll have to do on the test,” recommends Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist and author.

Ask your child to practise healthy habits in general, but especially in the week leading up to a test

For instance, explains Moore in her book Kid Confidence, for a math exam, practise doing actual math problems, like those that they’ll be tested on.

Doing anything else, like reading through notes or watching their tutor solve problems, won’t prepare them, Moore says. Sleep also helps your brain absorb and retain what they’ve learnt, so ideally, review before bedtime – let them ask you for help.

Do the easy parts first

“If you hit a hard question, skip it and come back to it. Doing the easy ones first builds your momentum and confidence – and might remind you of things you’ve forgotten,” Moore says.

Block bad thoughts

“Put your imagination on a leash,” recommends Jane Ehrman, who’s a behavioural health therapist at the Cleveland Clinic.

“Deleting” negative self-talk by letting them focus on their knowledge and abilities, and let them picture themselves doing well instead, can help them reach their goals, Ehrman says.

Keep calm

This may sound impossible when you’re really nervous, but like anything else, calming down is easy with the proper tools.

Oxygen relaxes you and increases brain function, so as soon as you feel panic rising, try this breathe-and-release technique, suggests Ehrman: Take a long, deep breath, then part your lips and let it all go, exhaling all your tension and worries out of your body.

Repeat for four breaths, three or four times a day. After a couple of weeks, deep breathing daily can “rewire” your brain to be calmer.

You’ll find that when faced with new challenges, you’ll automatically breathe-and-release any stress before it’s overwhelming.

Take care

Practise healthy habits in general, but especially in the week leading up to a test, Ehrman says.

This means getting exercise, going to bed early and fuelling your body and brain with healthy food – not junk food – to be at their best.

Stay focussed

Because you can think about only one thing at a time, you can replace any negative thoughts with a positive statement, such as, “I know how to do this!”

When they feel fear or doubt creeping up, tell them to take four long breaths while repeating the statement. In just a minute, they’ll be calmer and ready to tackle what’s ahead.

And remember that if they feel overwhelmed or want help managing difficult emotions or challenges, tell them to always reach out to family, friends, guidance counsellors or others they trust. Having support can help make any difficult situation more bearable.