Help kids embrace stress when it comes to taking tests

Published 6:59 am Sunday, March 27, 2016

QUESTION: How do I help my child calm down before taking tests?

ANSWER: According to Harvard Business School professor, Alison Wood Brooks, who studied pre-performance anxiety in a variety of areas, including singing karaoke, speaking in public, and math performance, it is actually better to “embrace stress” than to try to calm down. In one research study, Brooks divided students preparing to give a public speech into two groups. One group was instructed to repeat “I am calm” out loud before speaking. The second group was instructed to repeat, “I am excited.”

Both groups continued to experience anxious feelings; however, the “I am excited” students reported feelings more confident and were rated as more persuasive, confident and competent by the observers of the speeches.

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In another study, Brooks divided a group taking a practice exam. Half the test takers got a “stress is good for you” pep talk. This group was told that stress can improve performance on a test; if you feel anxious, just remind yourself your stress is helping you. Those students scored higher on the practice exam, and, later, on the real exam.

So, if before a test, or public performance, children feel like their hearts are racing, it’s hard to breathe, their palms are sweaty, their knees are trembling, their stomachs are “in knots,” it’s time to say some of these statements out loud: “I feel my body preparing for this challenge.” “I have butterflies in my stomach; my body is determined to do well on this test.” “A little stress can actually help me do my best on this test.” “My palms are sweating. I’m starting to get energy to do well on this test.” “I’m getting excited to rise to the challenge.”

The way we think about stress, the way we perceive it, is a mindset. Some types of stress can be used to our advantage. It’s good to learn that early.

To talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child-raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out and and free resources at the Parenting Resource Center Specialty Library (105 First Street SE, Austin).