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Helping Your Child with Test Anxiety

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Stress » Featured Article

By Lacy Dyke, M.MFT, LPC-S

Lacy Dyke, M.MFT, LPC-S

If you are a parent of a school aged child, you undoubtedly dealt with the rigors of preparing your child for this yearís state wide standardized tests. Get a good nightís rest, eat a banana, be on time, these are all the general recommendations for preparing your child for testing the next day, but what if your child wakes with severe nausea or headache, dreads going to school that day to the point of tantrums or calls you crying during a break? Your child may be experiencing test anxiety. Many children experience test or performance anxiety every day, but when it becomes so pervasive your child has noticeable physical reactions or a big drop in scores, it may be time to get them some additional help.

Counselors specializing in childhood test anxiety can offer a variety of support and solutions for the anxious child. One specific area of investigation that can add insight into your childís behavior and performance is uncovering underlying fears about testing. Many times children have experienced a negative score in the past that leads them to believe they will perform in the same way in the future.This kind of thinking can sabotage their efforts before they even begin. Other children may feel pressure from outside sources, such as college entrance requirements, parents or other students, to perform well. Fears of disappointing others or not performing well enough to achieve their goals can interfere with preparation and performance and can cause extreme amounts of pressure to be placed on every question the child is unsure about. Still other children struggling with ADHD or difficulty focusing, may experience fear regarding completing the exam within the specific time constraints and the negative outcomes they will experience if they do not finish in time. Working with a counselor to identify each childís specific worry about the test or their performance will often times offer answers to many puzzling questions and provide a good direction for how to assist the child in overcoming their fears and anxiety about future exams

Once test anxiety has been identified, it can be helpful to remind your child of their value regardless of their test scores. Many older children can believe that if they perform poorly on exams, they wonít get into the college of their choice or that low test scores could cause them to not get the scholarships needed to pay for school, threatening their financial means and future. Younger children may worry they wonít pass their grade and all their friends will move on without them. Many fears of poor test performance exists and children can believe that if they donít perform well, then they will not be accepted, loved, valued, etc. as much as if they achieve high scores. Reminding your child that you love and accept them no matter what score they attain gives them permission to focus on other goals, instead of stress to gain acceptance from outside sources.

Living in a society of examinations and performance can set a child up to fear testing and to experience high levels of anxiety during exams. If you notice your child acting out of character, having unexplainable tummy troubles, difficulty sleeping, or sudden headaches, consider investigating their feelings about previous and upcoming exams, as well as their beliefs about their performance on these exams. What you uncover could explain many physical symptoms and give you good information about how to help them going forward.

About the Author...

Lacy Dyke is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor with Leander Counseling Associates outside of Austin, TX. Lacy specializes in anxiety disorders, specifically test anxiety in children and adults.

Last Update: 3/24/2014

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