“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.” – Dr. Seuss
Testing starts at a young age
It would seem as if exams and tests are starting at a younger and younger age, and it is not uncommon for first graders to feel stressed and nervous at the prospect of having to read to the class, or sit through a numeracy assessment. It’s up to teachers to prepare children for the content of exams, but it is up to us as parents to prepare children for the experience and potential stress of exams. Many children stress just at the thought of taking a test, or speaking in front of a class, and it can become an obstacle before they have even opened a book to prepare.
How to tell if your child is stressing
Exam or testing stress is different to other stress, because it is predictable, coming at certain times during the school year. The following can be signs of stress in a child:
- Sleeping patterns changing.
- Irritability and emotionality.
- Nail biting or fidgeting.
- Change of normal habits, such as losing interest in friends.
- Unspecified stomachaches.
- Older children may find it difficult to make small decisions, and seem indecisive or ‘zoned out’.
In extreme cases, your child might experience bouts of crying and panic attacks, which need to be discussed with a medical practitioner. Often they prescribe medication as a short-term solution, but is is important to address the underlying issue and to teach coping skills.
It is never too young to equip children with emotional coping skills. Teaching children as young as 4 to understand and express what they are feeling, gives them the tools to deal with emotions and stress later in life. Encouraging discussion at the dinner table or at gatherings with a few adults, gives children the opportunity to give their opinions or enter into debates in a safe environment. Make opportunities to communicate with your children, whether discussing a book at bedtime, or planning activities together. Here’s a list of books that will help you to with the process of communication and talking through problems with your children.
Taking an exam is a skill that can be taught, like any other. Exams require you to answer a specific question as asked, in an allotted time frame. To get children used to this process, play 30 seconds on weekends, or set up mock exams, then mark and discuss them with your child. Most school textbooks have sample exam papers included in each section. Alternatively, ask your child’s teacher for some old exam or test questions.
Younger children might be stressed at the thought of a ‘show and tell’ that focuses the attention on them. Once again, practicing the activity should help, so get your youngster to do the ‘show and tell’ for you, then discuss any anxiety they might feel. It might help to point out that assessments are just one way of seeing if everybody in class is coping and doing well, including the teacher.
Coping skills and ways of dealing with stress:
- Practice relaxation and breathing techniques.
- Talk about specific anxieties, and try to find a solution together.
- See that children get enough exercise and sleep, and ensure a healthy diet.
It is important always to listen to your children, and allow them to express fears and anxieties. Pay attention to their behaviour, and work with them to find a solution. If the problem persists, or your child continues to exhibit physical signs of stress, please consult a healthcare provider.