This time of year brings school stress that can impact brain health and behaviors in children and teens alike. It’s not uncommon for them to experience anxiety or discomfort around the end of a school year as they anticipate a change from routine and feel the stress of making the grades. The anticipatory anxiety around the transition to a new routine and the fear of failing makes the end of the school year a particularly difficult time for many students.For the last nine months, your child has had routine, formed relationships with his or her teachers and peers, and has had the safety in knowing what the next day will bring now. But now they have finals, farewells, and anxiety about their academic performance.
Many kids from elementary school, to high school seniors, suffer from test anxiety and fear of failure. The fear may be internal or come from outside cues, but as parents, you can help.
Here are some signs that your child may be anxious about their academic performance
- Doesn’t want to go to school, especially on a test day
- Cries or has melt-downs during the days leading up to a test
- Changes eating and sleeping patterns
- Obsessive thoughts about making good grades
- Has stomach aches, loose bowel movements, nausea
- Puts themselves down or says they are“stupid”
- Has an upset stomach or a tension headache while doing homework
- Performs well on practice tests but not on the real test
- Angry, either at his or her loved ones, or directed at school, or themselves
How Can You Help?
Be honest with yourself. “Am I the contributor or supporter?” Some parents unwittingly heap stress on their kids by talking frequently about tests and sending the message that they measure their child’s worth in terms of grades and test scores. Some parents think that if they don’t push their kids, they are being irresponsible. But pushing them while they are stressed and anxious, instead of guiding and assisting them, will only create more anxiety. They need your support, not another teacher or coach.
Practice validation and empathy. Using empathy to try and identify what they are feeling can be a huge relief to a stressed out child. If your son comes in pouting try “hey buddy it looks like you had a rough day, wanna talk about it?” instead of “you have to get to baseball or get started on homework.” Validate why they may be feeling this way,“ I know it’s the end of the year, and I bet it’s pretty overwhelming, thinking about tests and what we are going to do this summer.” If they are not answering you or you feel stuck try this simple phrase: “Can you help me understand how you are feeling?”
Help them relax. Lori Lite founder of Stress Free Kids, has great tools and free downloads for parents and teachers to reduce anxiety. She says “A powerful stress buster for test taking is positive self-talk. Anxiety can be lowered and confidence boosted with this simple technique.” Here are some examples of positive self-talk that can be used before and during tests.
- When angry or stressed, I take deep slow breaths
- I am calm, focused, and smart
- I am relaxed and alert
- I calmly trust my knowledge
- I know the answer to this question and I will look at it again in a few minutes
- I am smart and relaxed
Make sure they are getting enough sleep. As parents, you can help your student reduce end of school stress by creating a calm environment, even at night. Encourage books shut and computer off by a reasonable hour, 1-2 hours before bed. Distract from their studies by doing something as a family (their brains aren’t going to forget the information). Read a book, play a game or watch a TV show together. Have a bedtime routine and try a guided bedtime relaxation to help get their mind off school and on to dreamland. If sleep is becoming an issue, where they are not getting the recommended hours for their age, it may be time to check in on their protocol and do a neurotransmitter test. This is imperative to their school performance but more importantly their mood and behavior. For more on the importance of sleep and the role it plays in your child’s mood click here.
Make sure they are eating every 3-4 hours. When blood sugar gets out of balance focus and mood follow—fast! They are going to need good snacks and foods that fuel their brain. Aim to have protein with each snack and avoid junk food, dyes, and too many carbohydrates, as it will put your little one into foggy thinking mode. Coconut oil can be a great way to keep your blood sugar stable, just a spoonful after school can help your kiddo stay focused.
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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