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How to help kids curb test anxiety

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Posted at 8:23 AM, Aug 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-26 10:23:58-04

JUPITER, Fla.  — Taylor Grant, a fourth-grade student, is glad to talk about her summer vacation, her teacher for the new school year and her favorite subject in the classroom, but she gets tense when asked how she feels the night before a test.

"Scared and nervous," she said.

"You just want to pull all that anxiety off your kids and put it on yourself," Taylor's mom, Stephanie Grant, added.

At times, Taylor has felt so nervous before a test that she didn't want to go to school.

Alli Lebowitz, a licensed therapist and social work supervisor for the pediatric emergency department at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, said she often helps young people through test anxiety.

"A lot of it is related to the pressure of wanting to do well on a test and perform to a certain level that they're either putting on themselves or they're feeling from family or friends or even from the school setting," she said.

Research published with the National Library of Medicine suggests up to 40% of U.S. students struggle with test anxiety.

Lebowitz said there are signs to look for, such as a child complaining of a headache or stomach ache. They may also indicate they are nauseous or extremely tired before a test or while prepping. She said to pay attention to any personality changes.

"Talk about it. Sit down and have a conversation," Lebowitz said about normalizing the topic of test anxiety in the home. She added that it's important to make good sleep habits and nutrition priorities all year, but especially around test time.

Lebowitz said it's critical for recall and memory to have a designated study space in the home that's free of distractions.

"It creates an environment where they feel empowered to really be diving into the material and focusing on it and it takes away the distraction of just laying in bed and studying," she said. "They can also build their confidence when they start to connect the studying is leading to good performance is leading to better grades is leading to less test anxiety."

Grant said it helps her children to take short breaks during test prep. She added that her children benefit from a quick bike ride or walk outside.

In extreme cases of test anxiety, Lebowitz said kids might refuse to go to school, get physically sick or become paralyzed while taking a test. At that point, it's important to talk to a doctor immediately.