How to Guide Your Child Through Test Anxiety

Updated on March 15, 2019
Brandon Jarman profile image

Brandon has extensive research experience in education technology and implementation. Specifically, in K-12 and university environments.

Test anxiety is common in kids with anxious tendencies, perfectionist tendencies, or learning disabilities. It’s also something you can help them through. Start by learning as much as you can about why they’re anxious: what their specific fears are about the experience and what they think it means if they don’t do well. This info will help you when you’re working with them to create daily anxiety-reducing habits, prepare for tests, and get into the right mindset when it’s time to take a test.

Daily Habits

Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety. Before you even get to the specifics of taking tests, help your kids learn how to handle anxiety in general. Make sure you have the basics in order with a sleeping routine and healthy meals and snacks.

You can also teach your kids relaxation strategies, which will help them daily as well as when it comes time to take a big test. Take advantage of kids’ active imaginations by using visualization exercises to help them tap into a sense of calmness. Teach them deep breathing. These tools are not just for adults; kids will benefit from them, too.

It’s important to teach your kids empathy. As you teach them how to extend understanding and compassion to others, remind them to also treat themselves with empathy. A kid who knows that you have empathy for their experiences and knows that it’s important for them to recognize their own limitations and struggles is more likely to be able to cope with anxiety.

Preparation Time

Some children don’t thrive in traditional learning environments. Thankfully for us, it’s 2019. Parents should consider implementing technology in their child’s learning habits. Find out if your kid’s school offers online classroom options or additions to traditional classrooms. Ask if you can communicate with teachers via digital platforms to find out what your child needs the most help with at home.

You can also help your kid prepare for tests by improving their study strategies. One way to reduce test anxiety is to find out about the format of the test: Is it multiple choice, short answer, essay, a combination? Once you both know this, your child can practice the material in the same format to get more comfortable with it.

Another strategy to try is replacing information memorization with looking at the bigger picture of what they’re learning. Help them create an outline of all the material and then fit specific pieces into it. This process supports a deeper understanding of the material overall, so studying is no longer just rote learning.

And, of course, scheduling study sessions and minimizing distractions always help. Rather than cramming, help your kid plan a schedule that involves regular breaks and time after studying to decompress, perhaps by playing outside or going for a walk. Find out early when tests are scheduled so you can, with your child, work backwards to create a manageable schedule.

Day of Test

Start preparing a day or two before by making sure your child is sleeping enough, not doing anything particularly stressful leading up to the test, and having nutritious meals. Remind them to practice relaxation and anxiety-calming techniques. Getting into a more positive mindset leading up to the experience will help kids during the test itself. Help your kids envision success.

When test day comes, start the morning by putting the test in perspective. Kids sometimes think that doing poorly on one test is a bigger deal than it is. It won’t make or break their entire grade, and it won’t communicate to you that they’re a bad student or child—be sure to reinforce this message. Praise them for the work they’ve put into preparation. Remind them that even if they don’t do well on this test, you still love them and they still have future opportunities to perform better. Even if they freeze up, taking the test can be a learning experience.

If your kid does well on the test, talk with them about what worked so they can do it again in the future. If they didn’t, talk with them about where things went wrong so you can refine what they do to manage anxiety and improve study strategies.

Revisit the pre-test conversations you’ve had about putting this one test in perspective and remembering that poor performance this one time doesn’t mean they’re bad. Kids have trouble putting things in perspective, so one way you can help is by reminding them of past successes (on tests or doing other challenging things). Test anxiety can seem like a huge deal, but you got this.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

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      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        3 months ago from UK

        In the UK children have been subjected to testing at a younger age over recent decades. Anxiety is becoming an increasing problem.

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