School and the pressure to do well can be a source of stress for school-age children. Surprisingly, getting stressed about school or taking tests can actually be a good thing, says Katherine Dahlsgaard, PhD, lead psychologist of the Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“It is entirely developmentally appropriate for kids in the school years to become mildly to moderately anxious in performance situations,” says Dr. Dahlsgaard. “It means they are cognitively mature enough to care — for themselves — about how well they do.”
“Hopefully, any anxiety your kids are feeling is mild enough that it serves the natural, intended purpose of stress, which is to motivate them to focus and try their best,” says Dr. Dahlsgaard.
You can also use times of stress as teachable moments, by helping your child plan and practice good coping skills, suggests Dahlsgaard.
Creating a stress management plan
Your family’s stress management plan doesn’t have to be elaborate. And it’s not the specifics of the plan that are important, rather that you have one in place. It should simply involve a few things children can do to make themselves feel more confident and prepared, such as:
- Staying on top of homework and assignments in the weeks leading up to the test.
- Getting to sleep on time the night before a big test.
- Planning a small reward to celebrate finishing the test, so they have something to look forward to while they’re taking it.
And don’t forget to help your children remember that stress is a normal part of life. “Your job as a parent is not to prevent your children from feeling anxious or convince them not to feel stressed, but to instead model, teach and reward good coping skills in the face of stress,” says Dr. Dahlsgaard. After all, children will need stress management skills well into their adult years, too!