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Helping Kids Cope with School & Test Anxiety

Janelle Cox

 

School anxiety can start as early as kindergarten.

Students are excited and eager to start school, and with that come nerves and anxiety. These feelings are all considered “normal” by educational psychologists and doctors.

But what about the students that are having anxiety because of the new standardized testing that is aligned with the common core? Are these test anxiety feelings considered “normal?”

With the release of the common core standards and test scores, an increasing number of parents are reporting their children are feeling frustrated and suffering from test anxiety. Whether or not you agree or disagree with the standards, it is a fact that children as young as in elementary school have reported feeling anxious and stressed out due to the new testing. So what can teachers do to help these students feel less anxious about school and testing? Here are a few ways you can help.

Provide Activities that Distract

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Be aware of what a child with anxiety looks like. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, children who have anxiety are irritable, tired, have headaches, refuse to go to school, have separation anxiety, and may be defiant. If you notice a child who is exuding any of these symptoms try and provide this child with an activity to distract them. Allow them to read a book, listen to quiet music, or any other calming activity to help alleviate any of the physical symptoms. Once they feel better than they can return to normal class activities.

Create a “Safe” or “Quiet” Place for the Student  

When anxiety is high, allow the student to go to their “safe” place. This may be the nurse’s office, or any other classroom that you may choose. Make sure that you establish the rule that the student must come to you first, and tell you that they are having a “moment” and need to go to their quiet place to calm down.

Incorporate Exercise and Hands-on Activities

There has been plenty of research on how exercise reduces stress and anxiety. Even something as little as having students get up and stretch after each activity is said to reduce stress levels. In addition to implementing exercise breaks throughout the school day, try providing hands-on activities as well. By doing so, an anxious child will feel less stressed and it will help distract them from how they are feeling.

Teach Relaxation Techniques

It is normal for students to feel some sort of anxiety before a test. To help students relieve some of this anxiety, teach them a few stress-reduction techniques. For example, have students take a couple deep breaths and encourage them to breath out their tension. Or, have students close their eyes and visualize they are taking a test. Encourage students to imagine themselves doing well on the test and teach students to control their negative thoughts into positive ones. Another technique is to have students meditate for a few moments before a test. Have them sit still and imagine they are in a comfortable, relaxing place. Tell students to remember this place each time they need a break, or are feeling anxious.

Discuss Interventions that would be Helpful

Talk to the student and ask them what are some ways they think would help them feel less anxious. Together come up with a few strategies that you can implement each time they are anxious. For younger students, encourage them to talk about or draw their feelings to release and reduce their anxiety symptoms.

Decrease Stressful Situations

Decrease any and all situations that induce stress for the anxious child. If a child is anxious that they will be the last person to finish their test, then allow this child to take the test alone in a room where they will not be distracted. If a child is anxious to put on a presentation in front of their peers, then find a creative way that the child can present the information to the class, such as videotaping their presentation and playing it for the class.

Read Books that Show the Child They are not Alone

There are plenty of children’s books that can help a child with anxiety feel better and like they are not alone. These books can also help the students’ peers understand why he/she feels the way they do. Books such as “Sometimes I’m Scared” by Nemiroff and Jane Annunziata or “The Little Bear That Worried to Much: Suzie Bear and the Social Studies Test” by Jacqueline Cook are a great way for students to see that they are not the only ones feeling this way.

Anxiety is a common health concern and, according to studies, 10 percent of children have it. If you notice one of your students may have anxiety, make sure to communicate your concerns with the students’ parents and school counselor. Together you can make a difference that can reduce the students’ symptoms and make them feel more comfortable.

Do you have any students who display anxiety in your classroom? How do you handle it? Please share with us in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators