Standardized testing for many families is the toughest time of the school year. The pressure to perform ripples through classrooms across the country. In Texas, that pressure comes in the form of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, more commonly known as STAAR tests.
As many of us know, testing anxiety is real and can rear its ugly head among even the most confident students. For children experiencing mental illness, the stress, anxiety and self-doubt can have exponentially greater effects. It’s little wonder why the number of incidents of self-harm and aggressive behavior is much higher during standardized testing season. These incidents don’t just happen to children who struggle academically. High-achieving children can be just as vulnerable to the stress and anxiety.
As a parent or caregiver, you instinctively want to help your child through that stressful time, but sometimes you don’t really know what to do. Sometimes the best options are to give your child some breathing room, acceptance of his or her feelings, and be available to listen. The key is to not add to the anxiety. For more structured help for your child, here are 5 ways to help your child focus, remain calm, do his or her best, and get through this tough time.
- Reinforce the positives
During the weeks leading up to testing, look for and take opportunities to talk about the positive things your child has done during the school year. Be genuine and avoid over-praising, which can add to the anxiety your child may be experiencing. Remind him or her that the most important thing with each of those previous successes is that he or she did their best.
- Visualize success
Encourage your child to imagine being calm and relaxed, and doing well on the test. Have him close his eyes and picture opening the test packet, and the first question he sees he knows the answer to…and the next question, and the next. Have him imagine finishing the last question and feeling happy and pleased with himself that he did his best.
- Get a little R & R
In this case, a little rest and recreation can do wonders. Make sure your child is getting plenty of sleep; proper rest is necessary for accomplishing mental tasks on test days and any school day. Also take some time to get moving in order to burn off some stress and excess energy, and be sure to join in the fun! Exercising your body through playing, walking, and other movement will benefit both of you.
- Switch gears
The night before a test, don’t do skill drills or “cram”. These activities can build on existing anxiety, giving your child a sense that she may not be ready or capable for what she will face the next day. Instead, do something unrelated to the test subject. If she has a math test, do some word puzzles together. If it’s an English test, try coloring or drawing together. Activities like these keep their minds engaged so your child doesn’t dwell on the test.
- Eat, drink and be merry
The morning of the test, be sure your child eats a good, healthy breakfast with protein and drinks plenty of water. This will give him an energy boost and a great start to the school day. Also stay cheerful and encouraging as you get ready for the day. If you or your child is typically a morning grump, find a way to make a game out of your morning routine. Challenge one another to see who can put their shoes on faster.
Perhaps most importantly, all parents and caregivers need to understand is that everyone experiences stress and anxiety in different ways. Some children may keep it all inside while others want to talk through all of the possible scenarios. Be attuned to your child. Ask gentle questions if they are quieter than usual. Acknowledge and then redirect their worried thoughts as they share them with you. No matter how your child things the test went, celebrate with him or her afterward because you both survived another standardized testing season.
For hope and healing,
As the director of communications for Clarity Child Guidance Center, Mike shares the insights of children’s mental health experts, both inside and outside of Clarity CGC, who work with families looking for answers about their children’s mental health.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).