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Overcoming School Anxiety Reviews & Articles:
On-site reviews
Why is My Tween Afraid to Leave Home? Understanding Chronic Anxiety on Tweenparent.com by Diane Peters Mayer
Overcoming School Anxiety Book Review from Robyn's Online World
Parenting 101: Help calm your kid's nerves before the first day of school by Jennifer Davies, Union-Tribune Staff Writer, 8-29-09
What not to do on the first day of school: Think you're supremely unprepared for the fall grind? Think again. . . from GreatSchools.net
How to Prepare Kids for the First Day of School from Mighty Mommy - Quick and Dirty Tips for Practical Parenting, hosted by Cherylyn Feierabend.
Calming the back-to-school jitters by Jennifer Dean at MOMARAMA on PE.com
Separation Anxiety 101 and School Newbies: A Preschool Parent's Guide by Alisa Stoudt at Education.com
Book Review from LaLaGirl Likes.
Overcoming Homework Anxiety - Review by Education.com
OMG! School’s Almost In! by Michele Zipp, WorkingMother.com
Overcoming School Anxiety Book Excerpts & Interviews:
PARENTING 101 Interview: Watch for signs of bullying, and know how to react by Jennifer Davies, San Diego Union-Tribune Staff Writer,
Diane on BlogTalkRadio - Talking Anxiety with Diane Peters Mayer (Internet Radio Show & Podcast) with Lisa Stroyan & Amy Makice.
Anxiety - Interview with Diane Peters Mayer on Children with Anxiety
Read Diane's Interview with Elisha Goldstein (Mentalhelp.net and DrsGoldstein.com). on his integration of psychotherapy and mindfulness practice.
School anxiety from WHYY’s Behavioral Health desk, Maiken Scott reports.
Voices In The Family | Radio | WHYY - School Anxiety Interview
Table of Contents
Chapter 2
Chapter 8
Other Books

Overcoming School Anxiety: How to Help Your Child Deal With Separation, Tests, Homework, Bullies, Math Phobia, and Other Worries
by Diane Peters Mayer, M.S.W., L.S.W.

Chapter 8: My Child Has Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is one of the most common causes of school anxiety. Every student understands that taking a test means she will be graded, judged, and compared to her classmates, and that performing badly will likely net her negative consequences from her teacher and parents.

Michael, a first grader, has struggled with arithmetic since he began school, and is barely passing. Every time a math test is scheduled, he tries to avoid studying for it and cries and begs to stay home from school on test day.

Priscilla, a sixth grader, gets good grades but suffers in silence before any test, even on subjects she is getting an A in, with symptoms of stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Ray, in third grade, can't stop himself from trembling before a spelling test, and although he studies and knows the work at home, he often can't remember how to spell the words during the tests, and gets low grades.

Children who experience the kind of test anxiety that creates distress or low test scores are at a disadvantage when it comes to being successful in the classroom. This chapter defines test anxiety and explains its causes, symptoms, and short- and long-term effects on children. Easy-to-learn exercises and techniques to help children conquer test anxiety are provided, along with parental guidelines.

Kindergarten Is Not Playtime Anymore

Over the last twenty-five years, there has been a shift in kindergarten curriculum from what is commonly called child-centered, or play-based programs, to skill-based or academic courses of study centering on reading and math. Along with this shift came a proliferation of testing from kindergarten to twelfth grade, with an increase in student stress and higher numbers of children who experience test anxiety. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has made standardized testing even more important for students, teachers, and schools, because federal guidelines mandate that schools reach certain educational standards for every child within a specified time or be penalized.

Kindergarten once was an incubator to the transition to first grade, but today it is considered by many educators to be the "new first grade." Instead of story time, arts and crafts, sing-alongs, snacks, naps, and learning group dynamics, today's kindergartner may be spending a good deal of time doing worksheets to learn how to read and do math.

Testing may begin before a child enters kindergarten with such standardized tests as the Kindergarten Readiness Test (KRT). Students are assessed on their proficiency in vocabulary and their ability to identify letters, distinguish large and small differences between objects, recognize that language is made up of small sounds, comprehend what they have read and then interpret its meaning, and know numbers and understand math. Many children flourish within these new standards, but others feel like failures even before they walk through the classroom door.

Each state sets it academic standards, and school districts have leeway to do so too, so some schools have taken the academic approach, whereas others remain more child centered. If your child is struggling with testing, you need to find out your school's philosophy and take the necessary action to help your child.

What Is Test Anxiety?

"Good morning, class," the teacher said. "I have an announcement to make. This Friday, you're going to have a math test." Those words will make almost 100 percent of the students groan and a good percentage of them nervous. Being anxious about an upcoming test is normal and even necessary because students need a little adrenaline rush so they will be "up" for the test. Normal amounts of anxiety can add spark and vitality to the mental performance needed to test well. If your child gets anxious when a test is looming, but is able to study hard and for the most part tests well, then test anxiety is a nonissue. But if your child is distraught over testing, exhibits negative or acting-out behavioral changes, can't study, or tests poorly even when he has studied, then test anxiety is a problem.

Testing by its very nature is being judged and evaluated in relationship to one's peers. Students who test well generally feel smart and are more confident than poor testers. Students who dread tests often feel stupid and ashamed about their anxiety and poor grades and often suffer from low self-worth, not understanding that low test scores may not be an indication of true intelligence or ability. Test anxiety disturbs the mind and body in the way that any anxiety does, affecting children in how they think, learn, and reason; how they feel about school and themselves; and how they react to school and learning. Scoring low on tests may also cause negative responses from teachers and other students.

Denise, a ten-year-old fifth grader, can't sleep the night before a test, lying awake worrying that she will "blank out" during the test, won't remember a thing she studied, and will probably fail. Denise is right, because her brain freezes as soon as she looks at the first question. Sometimes she gives up, puts her name on the paper, and takes a zero. Denise is smart and understands the work, but her anxiety doesn't allow her to show that on tests.

Jamie, in second grade, can hardly sit still during a test. His heart pounds, his hands and legs shake, making him feel like he is going to jump out of his skin. When Jamie can't control his symptoms during a test, which is almost all the time, he feigns a stomachache and tries to be sent to the school nurse.

Shelly is in fourth grade. The first time she was tested in kindergarten, she looked at the paper and promptly vomited. Since then, taking tests is a nightmare for her. Shelly becomes irritable and has angry outbursts days before a test. Even thinking about the test makes her anxious, so she avoids studying. Shelly feels stupid and "different" from her classmates, and does not interact with them.

Katie always feels panicky before a test. She can't sleep the night before, feels nauseated and has diarrhea the morning of the test, and worries that she will fail. She feels an adrenaline rush when she gets the test paper, which scares her into thinking she will faint. However, she begins the test, and though she suffers, Katie usually tests well.

Denise, Jamie, and Shelly are all smart, but their test anxiety makes it almost impossible for them to show what they know and get good grades. Even their peer relationships are beginning to suffer because they all feel a sense of shame about their problems and shun many peer relationships. Katie's test scores are good, but her test anxiety creates high stress that she has trouble handling. Test anxiety in any form negatively affects the quality of a student's life.

Does My Child Have Test Anxiety?

Children with test anxiety can experience any number of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms, which can vary from mild to severe. Some children act out their anxiety in overt ways, whereas others suffer in silence. Physical symptoms include:

    • Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest tightening/pain, or sore throat
    • Stomachache, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
    • Shaky limbs and trembling
    • Headache and body aches

Anxiety grips the mind and locks it down, making it seem impossible to concentrate on the test material or remember what was studied. When that happens to your child, the emotional and behavioral signs of anxiety appear. Does your child have any of the following emotions during testing?

    • Feeling overwhelmed
    • Feeling helplessness, hopelessness
    • Feeling shame and worthlessness, feels like a failure
    • Feeling panic

Whether your child openly advertises her distress about testing or not, the following behaviors may occur before, during, or after testing, indicating test anxiety:

    • Is unable to concentrate or freezes up during the test
    • Cries or gets sad or depressed
    • Complains about being sick
    • Has angry outbursts or tantrums
    • Gets exhausted, fatigued, or feels faint
    • Has trouble falling asleep the night before a test or has insomnia

Children with test anxiety may rush through the test to stop the anxiety or give up and not even try to finish. They often withdraw from academic and social activities and may refuse to go to school. Some children with severe cases of test anxiety feel so much distress that they threaten to hurt themselves. Test anxiety blocks the ability of your child to achieve his academic potential, as well as undermines his social development.

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