As many children are approaching the end of the school year, exams and standardized tests are on their mind. This can mean extra stress for kids as they take practice tests, complete extra worksheets, and worry about advancing to the next grade level.
Unfortunately, feelings such as nervousness and fear have a negative impact on children’s ability to think clearly and to perform well on tests.
The good news is, you can help kids overcome test stress and calm their nerves with these three mindset skills:
First: Teach kids to develop a positive mindset about the test
Children often walk into a test with thoughts such as:
- “I hope I don’t fail.”
- “They are going to trick us.”
- “This is so hard”
These thoughts don’t create good grades on tests.
Instead, they create fear and anxiety which can make it very difficult for children to think clearly and to recall what they’ve learned.
Remember, our thoughts create our beliefs, and our beliefs create our results. If kids have negative beliefs about their ability to perform well on a test, their result will most likely be a poor performance on the test.
You can help children uncover their beliefs by asking them how they feel about the upcoming test.
If they express fear or worry, talk with them about the importance of walking into a test with supportive thoughts. Working with them on creating positive self-talk about their ability to do well, and having them visualize taking the test with confidence and ease are practices that will help kids overcome test stress.
Second: Help kids build a mindset for confidence through preparation
If a child is nervous about the test, ask her teacher for additional practice materials that she can complete at home.
You can also find both free and for-purchase practice materials on the Internet. Just search on the topic and appropriate grade level for that child (i.e. search for “math worksheets fifth grade”).
To help your children experience a more “real world” environment, also consider timing them as they work through the practice materials.
Third: Teach kids how to calm their minds
When thoughts of failing creep into a child’s mind, the child may feel anxious and afraid. These feelings actually change which part of the brain is active during the test!
When children are anxious or afraid, the “fear brain”, which controls fight-or-flight, takes over their mind and shuts down their “thinking brain” which is critical for the higher level thinking skills needed for taking tests. To prevent this from happening, it is critical that kids learn how to keep their brain in the game by calming their nerves.
One of the most effective calming techniques is belly breathing because it helps slow the heart rate and calm the body.
You can show kids this technique in just a few minutes.
First, have children 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 expand outwards 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 release the air out of their “belly balloon” counting: one… two… three.
A single inhale/hold/exhale completes the first cycle.
Next, 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 situations. If you’re anxious about the test, then they will probably feel anxious about the test, as well. Talk with them about the importance of always doing their best work, work with them on the skills above, and let them know that you believe in them and their ability to do well!
This is just the tip of the iceberg!
Parents, to help your kids develop a learning mindset and
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