Standardized Tests – How to Help Kids Cope With the Pressure

Are standardized tests in the news in your community?  It seems to be what everyone is talking about around here.  Federal and state-mandated standardized tests are given to almost all students in grades K-12 in the spring, as far as I can understand.  I am not an expert in primary education, standardized testing or curriculum development so I can’t speak about the tests from that angle.  But, I am an expert in anxiety and parenting and have a few thoughts about how testing affects those sorts of things.

I have watched standardized testing season come and go (as a psychologist and mom) for over a decade now.  And here’s the thing: they cause A LOT of anxiety, worry and nervous feelings all the way around.  In parents, in students, in teachers in administrators – probably bus drivers and custodians too – everyone’s feeling the tension.  It’s almost impossible to escape.

Here are some ideas for managing the testing season in your home:

  • Keep your routine normal.  Kids thrive on routine.  Chances are their school days will look a little different during testing season (different class schedules, dismissal times, etc) so it becomes even more important that routines remain the same at home.  Try to keep normal bedtimes, mealtimes and activities going on as usual.
  • Resist the urge to talk about testing.  Your kids – whether in 1st or 11th grade – have likely been hearing about their standardized tests for weeks as teachers prepare them for what to expect.  When they get home they might need a break from all the hype.  A simple: “How did the test go today?” is likely all you need to ask about it.  Grilling our kids, ranting about the philosophical flaws of their school system or putting extra pressure on them to perform academically is rarely helpful.  Keep it light and give them a break.
  • Teach stress management skills.  Life is full of stressors.  Mastering a couple stress management strategies in childhood can be a wonderful thing.  If your child is a little stressed on test days, consider using the opportunity to teach him some basic stress management strategies: Take deep breaths; visual a soothing, restful place; Go on a bike ride or walk.

The vast majority of kids (and parents!) make it through testing season just fine and chances are you (and I!) will, too.  If you are concerned that your child’s worry seems more intense than normal, or it doesn’t resolve after the tests are over, you might consider meeting with a psychologist.  Read more about whether therapy is needed here.

*This post first published March 2015*

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