Think back to the days when you were a student. More than likely, there were certain subjects or exams that gave you anxiety. The thought of studying or doing homework for that particular subject probably caused stomach cramps, nausea, and even actual fear. You might still feel residual effects of that anxiety today.

Unfortunately, your child may be dealing with the same school-related anxiety that you did as a student. In fact, approximately 10 million students in North America suffer from test anxiety, making it the number one learning challenge today. Some of this stress can be attributed to the fact that, today, there is more standardized testing in schools than ever before—and research is showing a definitive link between the increase in frequency of standardized tests and test anxiety.

Children who already have diagnosed anxiety disorders, ADHD, and learning disabilities are especially affected by school stress and test anxiety, as are those who simply do not possess an abundance of self-confidence. But there are ways to successfully deal with school-related anxiety. They’ll require some practice and work, but if you and your child stick with it, the stress and anxiety can managed quite effectively.

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1. Practice Makes Perfect

Practice for tests? You may be asking how that’s possible. While it may not be feasible to know exactly what will be on a test, knowing the test format can help students feel more prepared when test time comes.

For example, if a child knows a test will be multiple choice format, he/she may feel more comfortable knowing that they have a chance of simply guessing the correct answer if they do not know it. Or if the test is timed, you and your child can practice a test within the same time limit; this can help ease some of the anxiety, as a strategy can be planned to accommodate the time constraints. Some experts believe in simulating the scenario as closely as possible, such as running through a practice test at the same time of day the actual test will be. This will put the student in a more comfortable situation for the actual test, having actually experienced a similar scenario ahead of time.

Improving on study techniques is an effective way to practice for a test as well. One approach is to reorganize the material, which helps kids see the information in a different way than it was originally presented. This can lead to better understanding of the subject matter, which raises confidence levels.

2. Learn Test Techniques

There are quite a few techniques that can help students ease their minds and reduce their stress heading into an exam. This somewhat relates to practicing if you know the test format ahead of time, but these specific techniques can be effective in calming the mind and not overanalyzing questions or answers during the test.

o Multiple choice test? By crossing out the answers that he/she knows is wrong, a student can then make a much more educated guess (while cutting down the odds of getting the answer incorrect).

o Don’t overthink and spend too much time on a single question. Doing so will only lead to scrambling near the end when the student realizes time is nearly up.

o Similarly, once an answer is selected, move on. Second-guessing results in wasted time and more wrong answers.

o If panic starts to set in, changing things up can help students reset the mind and regain focus. Skipping a question or a section and then returning once the mind is in a better place can help.

o Don’t know the answer? Oh well! Kids need to understand that, while important, a question on an exam is not the end of the world. If a child is truly struggling with a question, it’s perfectly acceptable to either guess or skip the question entirely.

3. Mentally (and Physically) Prepare

It may sound simple, and it’s probably something you heard countless times throughout your academic career—but taking care of yourself both physically and mentally can make a major difference in school anxiety levels.

Spending hours and hours studying and completing school assignments is not ideal. Routines such as this lead to burnout, which only causes more stress and anxiety. If your child knows there’s a long day of schoolwork ahead, help them plan some much-needed “brain breaks” to clear their head. Doing so can refresh their minds so they’re energized and ready to tackle more work. What exactly is a “brain break”? It’s a short mental break that helps students focus because the break can positively impact their emotional state.

A good example is physical activity. Studies have shown that physical activity effectively reduces fatigue, improves concentration and alertness, and enhances cognitive function. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), when stress affects the brain, the rest of the body feels that impact. Put simply, if your body feels good, so does your mind. Brief physical activity breaks throughout the day can have your child feeling much better—both physically and mentally. One reason is that this type of activity produces endorphins, which not only act like natural painkillers, but they also help improve sleep—which…you guessed it, reduces stress.

Additionally, eating a balanced breakfast has proven to be important in curbing school anxiety and helping prevent other issues. According to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), skipping breakfast (or being hungry in general) can lead to more behavioral, emotional, mental health, and academic problems as well as poorer grades.

Taking care of both mental and physical health will go a long way toward reducing school-related anxiety.

4. Remain Calm

For someone dealing with stress and anxiety, this may be easier said than done. That’s why there are techniques that can be used to keep calm during a difficult class or while taking an exam. Some are simple, others require more time—but these techniques are very effective in diffusing tension and stress.

Breathing exercises can calm the mind and body. Deep breaths, for example, help you relax because they make your body feel the way it does when you are relaxed. Deep breaths send signals to your brain that it’s time to stay calm and chill. The use of stress-relieving objects, or fidget toys, is known to help many people who suffer from stress and anxiety (even if experts don’t unanimously agree on their actual effectiveness), and some even find that stress toys help increase concentration. Having a stress ball or similar object in school—especially during tests—can help students feel more comfortable and reduce some of the tension they’re feeling.

This all falls, more or less, under the mindfulness umbrella. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, mindfulness, according to the Child Mind Institute, is a “meditation practice that begins with paying attention to breathing in order to focus on the here and now, not what might have been or what you’re worried could be.” In other words, mindfulness helps train your brain to deal with anxiety and stress. Regularly using mindfulness techniques and activities can help your child reduce their stress and improve their focus.

5. Understand Anxiety

Kids may not know why their heart races or why their stomach is in knots every time a test is placed on their desk. It turns out, understanding their anxiety can help children better manage it. In a recent study by the Stanford University Department of Psychology, it was found that providing students with an alternative perspective to stress and anxiety can help them cope with it. The study demonstrated that simply understanding anxiety and the signs of anxiety can actually improve test scores. For example, a fast heartbeat is a typical sign of anxiety—but it can also tell the brain that you’re excited, which can help with mental preparation for a test.

6. Build Confidence

“Confidence comes from being prepared.” – Legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” – Hall of Fame tennis player Arthur Ashe

The common denominator in these inspirational quotes? Preparation. It’s thought that confidence breeds success. So, in our specific case here, how can a student gain that confidence in order to be successful in a difficult subject or on a test? Well, being prepared certainly goes a long way. One doesn’t have to be a genius in a particular subject area to achieve academic success. Sure, it may come naturally to some—but to those for which it doesn’t, extra prep and study time are key. When kids study the right way and feel that they know the material, and that they have a strategy in place to conquer the test or assignment, their confidence keeps growing. And that serves them as they face the challenge. Walking into a test already defeated nearly guarantees failure. And while confidence doesn’t guarantee success, it goes a long way toward achieving it.

If your child suffers from school-related anxiety or stress, try some of these tips and techniques. Through preparation, mindfulness, and understanding, kids can head to school every day feeling calmer, more confident, and ready for success.

About the Author:

David Engle