Coaching and Mindfulness for Kids

Test Anxiety

Test Anxiety

Anxiety has the potential to shut you down, When kids are having test anxiety they can’t think clearly, they can’t judge things the way they could if they weren’t anxious. All of your other abilities get clouded up by anxiety.

Why some kids get test anxiety?

There are a number of different reasons why some kids might be more susceptible to anxiety. Test anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with learning issues. Children who have ADHD or a learning disability are often already feeling anxious about school, and when it’s time to take a test that sense can be heightened.

Likewise, when a student has a limited amount of time to take a test and knows that he processes things slowly, he’s probably going to start feeling anxious.

Kids worried that they won’t do well, for whatever reason, are prone to more anxiety. Kids with an anxious temperament who worry about making mistakes or performing in general—tend to feel more test anxiety. Kids who believe that they won’t do as well in a particular subject, may also be more prone to test anxiety in that subject.

The common denominator is that if you think you aren’t going to do well, you’re going to feel more anxious going in. We want to create children with a positive mindset and strong sense of themselves as competent learners.

Identifying Test Anxiety

During exams, do you( or does your child )..

  • feel like you “go blank”?
  • become frustrated?
  • find yourself thinking “I can’t do this” or “I’m stupid”?
  • feel like the room is closing in on you?
  • feel your heart racing or find it difficult to breathe?
  • suddenly “know” the answers after turning in the test?
  • score much lower than on homework or papers?

When performing, do you…

  • become distracted?
  • feel overwhelmed?
  • miss important cues from your surroundings?
  • “go blank” and forget what you are supposed to do?
  • have distracting thoughts of failure or of poor performance?
  • perform more poorly than in practice?

Almost everyone feels nervous or experiences some anxiety when faced with a test or an exam. In fact, it is unusual to find a student who doesn’t approach a big test without a degree of anxiety. Many students experience some nervousness or apprehension before, during, or even after an exam. It is perfectly natural to feel some anxiety when preparing for and taking a test.

Too much anxiety about a test is commonly referred to as test anxiety. Test anxiety is very common among students! It can interfere with your studying, and you may have difficulty learning and remembering what you need to know for the test. Further, too much anxiety may block your performance. You may have difficulty demonstrating what you know during the test.

Test anxiety can cause a host of problems in students. Although each person will experience a different collection of symptoms with differing degrees of intensity, the symptoms fall into a few categories.

Physical

Headaches, nausea or diarrhoea, extreme body temperature changes, excessive sweating, shortness or breath, light-headedness or fainting, rapid heart beat, and/or dry mouth.

Emotional

Excessive feelings of fear, disappointment, anger, depression, uncontrollable crying or laughing, feelings of helplessness

Behavioural

Fidgeting, pacing, substance abuse, avoidance

Cognitive

Racing thoughts, ‘going blank’, difficulty concentrating, negative self-talk, feelings of dread, comparing yourself to others, difficulty organising your thoughts.

Stressful emotions can inhibit a student’s ability to absorb, retain and recall information. Anxiety creates a kind of “noise” or “mental static” in the brain that blocks our ability to retrieve what’s stored in memory and also greatly impairs our ability to comprehend and reason.

Research has shown that providing students with tools and strategies that build both emotional skills and healthy physical habits when preparing for a test can help them overcome test anxiety and the associated symptoms, while improving their ability to prepare for and perform on critical testing.

Your child will be able to make the best decisions when these different parts of his brain connect well with each other and also with the brain stem (Please see Dr. Daniel Siegel’s, “The Whole Brain Child”).

How your child or teenager’s brain develops?

Through non-invasive scanning of very young babies and children, the brain has been understood to be a ‘social organ.’ The normal development of the brain relies on stimulation through social interaction and is influenced as well by other factors including epigenetics, physical health, and diet. Key figures in the research in this area include John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and Mary Main.

All this means is that a baby is born with a basic brain structure. Then neural connections are encouraged by stimulating that brain through interaction.

Connections form in human brains all the time – but the bulk of the connections are made in the first two years of life.

How your child’s brain influences their behaviour?

How a child behaves is determined by what happens within his brain.

Your child can be encouraged to calm the emotion areas of their brain (the amygdala) by stimulating the thinking part of it (the pre-frontal cortex).

Mindfulness, mindful exercises, and emotion coaching are all ways that your child can build up his emotional resilience.

One of the ways the thinking part of your child’s brain works to calm his bodily responses and help him to stay emotionally balanced is via what’s called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve travels from the brain stem to all the key organs in the body doing things like lowering heart rate and breathing rates.

John Gottman and Emotion Coaching

The main idea behind John Gottman‘s Emotion Coaching is that all feelings are accepted as “normal” – but not all behaviour is acceptable. That is – feelings can always be talked about. “Name it to tame it” is a phrase used by Professor Dan Siegel – by naming emotions your child can stimulate the thinking part of his brain which stimulates the vagus nerve and calms his bodily responses to his feelings.

The main message of Emotion Coaching is that it is normal to have all sorts of feelings and that we can get better at understanding about how to manage our own behaviour.

The core emotions

There are core emotions that all humans experience. These include:

  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Surprise
  • Fear
  • Joy

As your child gets better at understanding how the emotion centre in his brain connects with other areas he can start to change how he behaves when he experiences strong emotions.

Your child can choose to take the time to practice mindfulness every day, for instance, as a way of changing the neural pathways in his brain. This practice can help your teenager to stay calmer when emotions start to rise. The Headspace app can be a good place to start with simple mindfulness meditation exercises as well as some of the exercises I mention in the video, eating mindfully, noticing our body in the present and breathing mindfully.