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Helping Children Deal with Test Anxiety

by Jennifer Hatcher, School-Based Mental Health Therapist at Phillippi Shores Elementary School

SARASOTA COUNTY, April 9, 2021 – It’s officially testing season in Florida, which can bring about stress and anxiety in school children, causing them to act-out in ways they may not understand. If not addressed, these feelings can have a negative impact on their test scores. While your child cannot control much about the actual test, there are some ways you can help them feel prepared and techniques you can use to calm them down, so they have the best results possible.

I recommend helping your child prepare for the ‘big day’ by completing the following tasks:

  • Practice calming activities days before the test.
  • Get a head start the night before by packing their backpack and laying out their clothes.
  • Be sure to send them to bed early and get them up on-time.
  • Serve a healthy breakfast the day-of.
  • Practice saying positive and encouraging words they can use to build themselves up before and during the test.

You can also use calming strategies to help your child keep their cool before, during, and after the test:

  • Mindful breathing – There are several breathing strategies I use to help students calm down.
    • “Bear breathing” is where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 to 5 seconds, and breathe out for as long as possible.
    • For “balloon breathing”, you link your fingers on top of your head, breathe in several times to fill your lungs while you raise your arms, filling an imaginary balloon. Finally, breathe out slowly as you drop your hands mimicking a deflating balloon.
    • “Candle breaths” is a favorite breathing exercise among students. It consists of raising 10 fingers and asking your child to blow out the candles as slow as they can.
  • Get moving – Exercise and movement can also affect focus and attention. Regular physical activity also improves concentration and motivation, decreases hyperactivity and impulsivity, and improves memory. Go outside for a run or briskly walk around a piece of furniture if you have to stay inside. Creating obstacle courses is a fun way to get moving! Bounce a ball, jump rope, or ride a bike.
  • Stay Positive – Help your child replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Positive messages send information to our brains that everything will be okay and that we can get through hard things! A simple note inside their lunchbox saying, “You can do this, I believe in you,” can be all the affirmation they need.
  • Talk about Feelings – Use understanding and supportive language to let your child know that you are going to be there for them and help them in any way you can. Phrases like “I’m here for you” or “Talk to me and tell me what’s going on” and “How can I help?” are all great ways to get the conversation started.

Using these techniques will ensure your child is emotionally, physically, and psychologically ready for testing. Now go break a leg!

Jennifer Hatcher provides school-based mental health services to children and families at Phillippi Shores Elementary School. The program – a partnership among the Florida Center for Early Childhood, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and Sarasota County Schools – is meant to keep high-risk children in school and help them meet their academic milestones through multi-generational therapy for the students and their families.