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Front Line Staff / Staff Leadership and Management

Helping Kids Handle “Test Stress”

test stress

During the spring, kids across America are preparing for state-mandated tests.

For many kids, that means extra stress as they complete additional worksheets, take practice tests, and worry about whether or not they will advance to the next grade level. We call this “test stress.”

Test stress often leads to feelings of anxiety, nervousness, and fear, which can have a very negative impact on children’s ability to think clearly and to perform well on tests (there is actually brain science behind it and we’ll discuss that later in this article).

Helping kids learn how to calm their nerves can help them feel more “in control” and improve their test scores. And, as an after school professional, you are in a unique position to help kids learn how to beat test stress.

Here are a few suggestions:

First, teach kids to develop a positive mindset about their test taking ability so that their thoughts are working for them and not against them.

Thoughts create beliefs and beliefs create results! If kids have negative beliefs about their ability to perform well on tests, they won’t do well on tests. When they change their thoughts, they change their beliefs, which will change their results.

You can help children uncover their beliefs by asking them how they feel about the upcoming test. You can also listen to how they talk about the test during casual conversations with their friends. If they express fear or worry about the test, it’s a great time to talk with them about the impact of their thoughts on their results.

Help them create a “positive self-talk mantra” about their ability to do well on tests. Examples include: “I take tests with confidence and ease!”, “Taking tests is easy for me!”, or “I’m going to ace that test!”

Also, have them visualize their success by seeing themselves taking the test with confidence and ease. Positive self-talk (affirmations) and visualization “program” both their conscious mind and their subconscious mind for success so that their thoughts are working for them and not against them.

Second, ask the kids if they feel prepared.

Preparation and practice helps children build confidence in their ability to do well. If a child doesn’t feel prepared for an upcoming test, coach her on how to ask her teacher for additional help or practice materials that she can work on after school or at home.

Another great resource is the Internet. The child can ask her parents to search for the topic and the grade level to find additional study materials (i.e. search for “math worksheets fifth grade”).

Third, teach children calming techniques.

When thoughts of failing creep into a child’s mind, he will experience feelings of anxiety and fear. These feelings actually change which part or the brain is active while taking the test!

When children are calm, the frontal lobe of the brain is activated. This is where logic and reasoning functions are performed.

In contrast when children are anxious or afraid, the frontal lobe of the brain shuts down and the middle/lower parts of the brain that control emotion and survival become activated. The brain literally cannot think clearly because the brain is busy preparing the body for fight or flight (that is why your palms get sweaty, your heart rate increases and your breathing gets faster when you start feeling worried or afraid. A child’s body will respond to the threat of failing a test just like it will respond to the threat of a tiger).

For kids to do well on tests, they must keep the frontal lobes of their brain engaged. And calming techniques can help!

One of the most effective calming techniques is “belly breathing” because it helps children slow their heart rate and calm their bodies.

We recommend teaching kids the “One…Two…Three Belly Breath” technique.

Here’s how it works…

First, have kids imagine that their belly is a balloon. When they breathe in tell them to imagine that they are blowing up their “belly balloon.” Have them take in a slow deep breath through their nose while counting to three. One…..two….three. Their belly should stick way out as they fill up their “belly balloon.” Next have them hold that breath for three seconds. One…two…three. Then tell them to slowly exhale through their mouth and let all of the air out of their “belly balloon.” One…two…three. That completes one cycle.

Once they complete the first cycle, have them repeat the cycle again. Usually the body starts calming down after only three or four cycles of belly breaths. This is a great technique for them to use any time they get nervous.

Finally, remember that kids often look to us to see how they should respond to things.

If you’re anxious about the test then they will feel anxious about the test too. Talk with them about the importance of always doing their best work and let them know that you believe in them and their ability to do well.

For more information about how you can use stories to help kids develop a mindset for happiness, confidence, and success in their lives, visit Adventures in Wisdom to check out a free story.

For breakfast I had a breakfast taco with egg whites, refried black beans, and turkey sausage along with my signature dark chocolate cafe mocha.

Author Profile: @renayethornborrow

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