Simple Tips for Helping Children Overcome Test Anxiety
Does your child experience test stress? If he doesn't, that makes him a rare exception. But there's hope yet – emerging research is uncovering the science behind test-taking jitters as well as effective strategies for keeping those butterflies under control.
What You Need to Know
New research shows how emotional stress and anxiety affect learning and academic performance:
- Stressful emotions can inhibit students' ability to absorb, retain and recall information by creating a “mental static” that blocks our ability to retrieve stored memory while simultaneously impairing our ability to comprehend and reason.
- Nervous feelings (frustration, anger, fear, anxiety) cause neural activity in the two branches of the autonomic nervous system to get out of sync.
- In turn, this disrupts the synchronized activity in the brain, disrupting our ability to think clearly.
On the other hand, positive feelings lead to increased harmony and synchronization in the brain and nervous system, which facilitates clear thinking.
How You Can Help
Research also shows that providing students with strategies that build healthy emotional skills and physical habits can help them overcome this anxiety and its symptoms, improving ability to prepare for and perform on critical testing.
- Practice the neutral tool: Every time you catch a negative thought repeating itself, stop the loop and practice adjusting to neutral. Focusing on the area around the heart helps take the focus off the mind loop, then breathe deeply as if your breath is flowing in and out through the center of your chest. Take 4-5 seconds on the in-breath, then on the out-breath. While breathing, establish a calm attitude. Don't just start this hours before the test – start during the days leading up to it, then right before and during.
- Address your nagging, “What-if...?” questions by rewording them into positive possibilities. Rather than wondering, for instance, “What if I can't remember anything?” Try wondering, “ What if I can remember more than I think I can?”
- Think good thoughts, especially just before the test. Science shows that positive feelings actually initiate brain activity that prompts it to work more effectively and in your favor. Whenever you feel nervous or anxious, remember something that makes you feel good. As you remember how you felt, hold that feeling, pretend you're literally holding it in your heart, and allow yourself to feel it for up to 20 or more seconds.
- Enjoy yourself the night before the test to take your mind off the day ahead – see a movie, play a board game, play sports. Your mind and emotions leading up to the test should be relaxed.
- Eat a hearty breakfast, including complex carbohydrates and protein, to give your brain the energy it needs to maintain focus for several hours.
For more on this topic, please see the full article:
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