“Mommy, once I started doing it, the worry bully* went away.”
This is what my daughter reported when I picked up after her first MCAS testing experience.
This is a huge victory. And it has nothing to do with passing or failing the test.
It has everything to do with learning what to do when you are afraid.
For those of you that do not live in Massachusetts, MCAS is the standardize testing of math and reading skills that starts in third grade.
But what MCAS came to stand for in our house was anxiety. My daughter was worried. She was scared and stressed.
And it turns out that she is not the only one. As I move along in my life both professionally and personally, I am hearing a lot about how children are worried about testing in school.
Of course we could have a discussion about the worthiness of testing young children. There are pros and cons. Personally I would prefer my children spend their time learning and not taking or preparing for tests.
I do not think these tests measure a lot that is useful.
But they are the reality. And if there is a silver lining here, it is that there is an opportunity for our children to learn how to handle their fears and worries.
As my daughter discovered the worries in your head are often worse than the actual experience
So if you have a child that worries a lot about testing (or anything else for that matter). Here are a few tips:
Tip #1: Find out what your child is actually worried about. Don’t assume you know.
My daughter had this idea that if she failed MCAS she would be left back. That is a lot of pressure for a little girl. And it is completely not true.
Once we were able to address this thought her anxiety decreased.
Tip #2: Help your child develop a realistic picture of how the day will go.
Anxious kids will do better with more information. What will be the same and different about testing day? Some kids will worry that they won’t get lunch or recess on a testing day. Find out what their want to know. Facts can help a lot. How long will the test take? What happens before or after? Find out what their questions are and get the answers. Also, Are there any perks? Maybe less or no homework?
Tip #3: Related to this, if your child has specific accommodations on their IEP, help them understand exactly what they are and what will happen.
Will the test be read to them? Will they get extra time? Will they take the test with the rest of their class or in a small group or in a one to one situation?
Tip #4: Praise for the effort. For showing up when something feels tough.
Normalize some amount of worry. Talk to your kids about how you feel scared sometimes but yet it doesn’t stop you.
As my daughter learned, MCAS is no big deal. I hope she learned that once you start doing something it is usually not as bad as you think. I hope she learned that the fear should not stop her.
Tip #5: Make sure your children understand that these assessments do not measure if they are smart or funny or brave or if they will have a successful and happy life.
What does matter? Well maybe how they deal with a task that scares them?
That matters. A lot. Feel the fear. Do it anyway.
For a great book on children and anxiety (with a great section on the worry bully) check out: http://www.amazon.com/What-When-You-Worry-Much/dp/1591473144/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395436049&sr=8-1&keywords=for+kids+that+worry+too+much