Calming Pre-Test Jitters


"My nine-year-old daughter freezes up during tests. She was offered additional time, but that didn’t help—she spent even longer in this state. She can’t explain why this happens. Do you have any suggestions?"


When children have anxiety, it often centers around doing well at school. After all, school is a child’s “job.” Try to shift her focus from getting good grades to doing her best. Your family’s reassurance that her “best effort” is what counts the most will mean a lot. The teacher can help by reassuring her that a test is a way to discover what to learn next.

You can also teach some simple self-calming skills she can use during a test. Have her practice controlled breathing—holding her breath for a second when she breathes in—or visual imagery: closing her eyes and picturing herself taking a test, feeling well prepared. She can repeat something like, “I don’t have to know every answer to do well.” Be sure she gets a good night’s sleep before a test. When you see her off to school in the morning, tell her that you know she’s prepared and you’re sure she’ll do well. Your confidence in her will help her feel more relaxed about the test.

Dr. Carol Brady is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Houston, Texas. She is also a specialist in school psychology and a well-regarded speaker in the areas of ADHD, children, and families in trauma and Tourette's Syndrome.

She received her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University and she is currently on the scientific advisory board for the Tourette's Syndrome Association and is an adjunct faculty at Baylor University and the University of Texas. Dr. Brady hopes to help children and families who deal with neurological/developmental disorders by serving as a regular columnist for ADDitude magazine.

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