By Tabitha Wilkes – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

It’s that time of the year again – STAAR testing season! But don’t worry, I’m here to tell you that there’s no need to fret. Have you ever been asked about your standardized test scores by a prospective employer? Nope, me neither! And guess what? Forbes reports that more than 80 percent of four-year colleges won’t even require standardized tests for fall 2023 admissions. So, let’s take a deep breath and relax, shall we?

As a teacher who cares about the well-being of all students, I want to remind you that a test score doesn’t define a child’s worth or success. Standardized tests are important, but they are just one tool among many to assess progress and performance. So, let’s focus on what really matters – Your child’s mental and physical health as they navigate the testing waters.

To optimize brain power on test day, make sure your child gets enough sleep and has a healthy breakfast. A grumbling tummy or a sleepy head can really affect their performance. And if they’re not feeling well, let them stay home and rest. Remember, their health comes first!

Anxiety is also a common issue for many children on test day. As a parent, you can teach your child positive self-talk, such as using affirmations to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. You can also practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing.

Positive Self-Talk: Positive self-talk helps to boost kids’ confidence by activating the prefrontal cortex and releasing hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, which improve mood and reduce stress. Help your child learn positive self-talk in the weeks leading up to testing. Come up with one or more phrases they can say to themselves when they need a boost of confidence or need to self-regulate, calm down, and destress.

Here are a few examples:

“I am calm, and I am smart!” “I studied hard, and I got this!” “I always do my best!” Students can (silently) practice positive self-talk during a test when they need a little boost of confidence.

Deep Breathing: Deep breathing creates calm by slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and activating the relaxation response in the body. One helpful deep breathing exercise for reducing anxiety before an exam is called the balloon breath. Remind your child that if they are feeling stressed to focus on their breathing and imagine that they are filling a balloon with air as they inhale deeply through their nose. As they exhale through their mouth, they should imagine that they are slowly releasing the air from the balloon, as if it were deflating. Encourage your child to repeat this exercise several times to help them relax and reduce anxiety before or during their exam.

Managing Differences: It’s important to be mindful and support each student’s individual needs during testing, such as those with learning differences, ADHD, or anxiety. Collaborate with your child’s healthcare provider and teacher to develop a plan for your child’s unique challenges and how to manage their test-day stress. It’s also essential to understand the details of your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and any appropriate testing accommodations available through Section 504. By ensuring that your child’s needs are clearly spelled out in these legal documents, you can help reduce their stress levels and set them up for success on exam day.

During testing season, it’s so important to stick to your normal routine. Get enough sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, and don’t make any special plans the night before the test. You can help boost your child’s confidence and motivation by using positive reinforcement. Verbal praise, small treats, or privileges, or even just acknowledging their hard work and completion can go a long way in reducing their stress levels and motivating them to perform their best and be proud of themselves.

Remember, your child’s mental and physical health should always come first. Prioritize their well-being during testing season by using these tips to reduce stress and anxiety. Let’s support our children by approaching testing season with a positive mindset!

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