Test Anxiety: A Guide for Parents (Part 1)

What is Test Anxiety?

Stressful teenage student having many problems

Test Anxiety is a sub-type of Performance Anxiety

Test anxiety is a combination of physiological over-arousal, tension and somatic symptoms, along with worry, dread, fear of failure, and catastrophizing, that occur before or during test situations.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Continuum anxietyTest anxiety is normal. We all experience a certain level of anxiety when we need to perform. Anxiety produces adrenaline which activates us to perform. It is when the anxiety becomes debilitating and you can no longer perform that is becomes a hindrance instead of a benefit. Below are some of the more severe symptoms of test anxiety which may require intervention.

Physical symptoms:

Headache, nausea, diarrhoea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness and feeling faint can all occur. …

Emotional symptoms:

Feelings of anger, fear, helplessness and disappointment are common emotional responses to test anxiety.

Behavioral/Cognitive symptoms:

Difficulty concentrating, thinking negatively and comparing yourself to others. Exaggerated worries and expectations of negative outcomes in unknown situations. “Blanking out”/ freezing

Test anxiety is just the tip of the iceberg

IcebergAn abnormal amount of test anxiety is merely a manifestation of a much larger issue. It is the tip of the ice berg and indicates that a bigger problem lies below. If you think about a warning light in your car flashing, say the oil light, this warning light indicates to you that you need to check the oil. You wouldn’t think that the problem lies in the flashing light and try to disable the light would you? No, you know that the light is directing you to the main problem in the car. An abnormal amount of test anxiety is the same as that flashing warning light. It indicates that something bigger needs to be attended to in that person’s world.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs illustrates the point:MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds.svg

In order for a person to self-actualize (reach their full potential) they need to have the all the base block in place. These base blocks, starting from the base of the triangle, as they apply to overcoming test anxiety are:

  • Physiological needs: The first need that needs to be met for self-actualization to occur is physiological needs. A child needs to be able to have good sleep hygiene, healthy food, water and air in order for these basic human needs to be met.
  • Safety: Once a child’s physiological needs are met, the next need can be worked on which is safety. A child needs to feel safe in their school and family environment in order to reach their potential. Any conflict or abuse in these 2 context will hinder a child from climbing higher up towards their potential. The environment needs to be nurturing, positive and encouraging in order for a child to have this need satisfied. A criticizing and rejecting parental or schooling environment will make a child feel psychologically unsafe.
  • Love & Belonging: Once a child feels safe, the next need can be worked on which is love and belonging. A child needs to feel accepted in their family as well as their school environment for this need to be fulfilled. Parents are encouraged to see the child’s performance on tests as a reflection of the performance and not as a reflection on the child. This creates an environment of unconditional acceptance for the child which fosters a sense of belonging.
  • Esteem: Once a child feels loved and that they belong, the next need can be worked on which is self-esteem. A child needs to have a positive sense of themselves in order for this need to to be met. Their self-talk, thoughts and feelings about themselves should be encouraging and positive. Children learn to regard themselves positively if they have care givers who acknowledge their strengths and use positive language when talking to them. Children tend to internalize the language of their care givers and develop their sense of self through the eyes of their care givers.
  • Self-Actualization: Once all the above needs are met then child can fully actualize themselves. This means that they have a good foundation to achieve whatever it is in life that they set out to do. They can become the best version of themselves and grow into functional, fulfilled and productive adults.

Abnormal test anxiety occurs when these needs are  not in place. It is only when all these needs are met that a child can successfully overcome test anxiety. Perhaps think about where your child may be struggling on this triangle? Stay posted for my next blog on how to help your child overcome the various obstacles on this triangle of needs.

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