How to Help Your Child Overcome Test Anxiety

By Shelley Frost
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Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety accompanied by physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Your child might experience nausea, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, diarrhea, sweating, difficulty concentrating or even a panic attack. She may feel disappointed, upset, angry and helpless, while falling into a pattern of negative thinking. You can't take the test for her, but you can help your child cope with her test anxiety to reduce the symptoms and improve her performance.

Set Realistic Expectations

As the parent, you can help your child set reasonable expectations and goals for himself. The NYU Child Study Center suggests focusing on efforts rather than expecting a particular grade. You might set goals for completing assignments or studying a certain amount of time, for example. This gives your child control over his efforts. Because he won't know exactly what to expect from the test, the pressure to earn a high grade can feel out of his control. He may feel anxiety if he worries about performing to those high expectations.

Learn the Material

Failing to prepare for a text is a potential cause of anxiety, according to the University of Illinois Extension. Your child needs to study regularly throughout the course of the class, not just right before an exam. Schedule study time every day when distractions, such as TV or cell phones, are not allowed. Review the material with your child. Review graded assignments to see where she needs additional practice. For example, if she routinely misses long division problems with remainders, put extra effort into the process of solving those problems during study time. If she feels comfortable with the material on the test, she may feel less anxiety.

Practice Taking Tests

A history of negative exam experiences can cause test anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Teaching your child how to take tests can prepare him for the test and reduce anxiety. Following directions is a key strategy. Practice this skill by giving your child two or three directions that he must follow. Another strategy is to create practice tests at home. Emphasize reading all directions and reading through the entire question. If you know the type of test, teach specific strategies. For multiple choice tests, teach your child to read through all options first. Have him cross out options he knows aren't correct. Practice rereading the question with the selected answer to ensure it makes sense.

Learn Relaxation Techniques

Practicing relaxation techniques at home gives our anxiety-prone child a tool on test day. Start with deep breaths while your eyes are closed. Talk your child through visualizing success on the test. You might say, "Picture yourself sitting at your desk. You feel relaxed. You know the information on the test. See yourself answering the questions and doing well on the test." Have her relax her muscles, focusing on one part of her body at a time. You might start with her face muscles and work down, for example. Use these strategies during stressful situations throughout life. Remind her to use them on test day, as well.

Rethink the Anxiety

Stress isn't always a negative situation. It can push your child to perform better, but he may need help reframing the anxiety and stress into a positive. Remind him that the anxiety is his body's way of preparing him for the test. Practice turning around negative thoughts that accompany the anxiety. If your child says, "I always do poorly on tests," remind him that he studied and knows the material. Give him positive statements to tell himself, such as, "I studied hard. I know the material. I will do well on this test."

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