By Laura Arrick, LCSW – April 30, 2019
It is a very busy time of year in local schools. ISTEP and ILEARN have taken over the past couple of months. Finals and end-of-year exams will closely follow. These tests can bring about a lot of pressure and stress for our students.
Learning how to manage that stress is important as students face these testing demands from year to year. These tests often heighten anxiety, which we know is something that affects children on a regular basis.
When we look at test anxiety in particular it’s not all bad. We want our children to have some anxiety and nervousness that will push them to perform and take testing seriously. But for some kids, their fears kick in and overwhelm them, which can lead to irrational thinking and powerful physical symptoms of anxiety.
“Anxiety has the potential to shut you down,” explains neuropsychologist Ken Schuster. “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.”
Your overall ability to perform and think clearly when the test is in front of you is diminished. Add on the time restraint of a test, and you have a recipe for feeling out of control and helpless.
When thinking about how to best help your child it’s important to listen. You don’t want to dismiss their fears and worries by saying things like, “It’s not that big of a deal” or “Quit worrying.” Instead, spend time with them and help them rationalize a plan to feel more in control.
Tips for students:
- Control what you can control. Spend your time learning how to manage your physical symptoms, practicing positive self-talk, and preparing to the best of your ability.
- Manage your physical symptoms. Anxiety often manifests through physical symptoms, and we know the body and mind are connected. Identify what physical symptoms you experience and work to calm your body through deep breathing and visualization techniques. Practice this at home before you start studying. Close your eyes, focus on concentrating on your breath, and feel your body relax and your physical symptoms slow down.
- Practice positive self-talk. Your attitude will reflect your performance. If the words you are preparing with are, “I’m a failure,” “I might as well not even try,” or “I can’t do anything right,” your performance will match that. Work on developing new habits around how you talk to yourself. Replace those thoughts with things like, “I am prepared for this,” “I will do my best,” and “I am in control.”
- Prepare and study. When you know you have a test coming up, spend time each day studying a little bit at a time. It is not effective to cram the night before and expect the information to stay in your memory. Spending time mastering sections in small doses will definitely aid in the comprehension of the material and not just memorizing. Also, think about the test format the teacher uses and study with that in mind. Make practice tests or flashcards that match that style.
Talk to your kids about how they can be at their best when taking a test. Test anxiety is real, but it can be managed and controlled by using the above tips.
By Laura Arrick, LCSW, July 24, 2018 –
“You will never understand what I am going through.”
“This is the worst day of my life.”
“I am worthless and wish I was never born.”
If you are the parent of a teenager you may have heard these words on more than one occasion. Your child could be riding the normal emotional and psychological rollercoaster of adolescence, or it could be something more alarming.
Mental illness affects younger populations at a greater rate than once thought. With increased knowledge and better screening tools, the number of adolescents with serious concerns is growing.
According to Mental Health America, as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry defines clinical depression as “an illness in which the feelings of depression persist and interfere with a child or adolescent’s ability to function on a daily basis.”
If left unaddressed, depression can lead to substance abuse, self-harm, suicide, and other destructive behaviors.
The symptoms of depression can be wide-ranging, but there are some basic warning signs:
- Persistent sadness or crying
- Poor performance in school
- Withdrawal from friends or activities
- Lack of motivation
- Increased fatigue
- Poor self-esteem
- A change in eating or sleeping habits
- Substance use
- Suicidal thoughts
Depressed adolescents may display an increase in irritability, anger, or hostility, extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, or frequent complaints of physical illnesses (headaches, stomachaches, etc.).
These symptoms may come and go on their own with all teenagers, so it can be tough to tell when a teen is in trouble. Think about how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how differently the teen is acting from his normal self.
If you feel your child may be experiencing clinical depression, get help immediately. Call the local mental health center to get an evaluation or United Way’s 2-1-1 line to get linked to other community counseling options.
If your child’s school is served by a Youth First Social Worker or another counseling professional, they can help connect you, too.
Parents can often feel hopeless and lost when it comes to helping a child who may be depressed.
Here are some tips for talking with teens:
- Offer support. Try not to ask too many questions. Teens often have no idea why they feel the way they do and have difficulty expressing their feelings in words.
- Be gentle but persistent. It can be very uncomfortable for kids to open up to their parents about personal matters. They may feel ashamed or afraid of being misunderstood. It is very likely they will shut you out at first, but you shouldn’t give up. Be gentle with your approach, but don’t shut down communication completely.
- Listen without lecturing. Do your best to resist the urge to criticize or judge. Be attentive and allow your teen to open up. Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.
- Validate your teen’s feelings. Don’t try and talk them out of how they feel even if their feelings seem irrational or silly to you. At least acknowledge how they feel so they will keep talking and not shut you out.
Parents who heed the warning signs of depression and seek professional help can help protect children from more serious or even tragic consequences.