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How to help a teenager with stress anxiety, especially during exam setting ?

I am asking because my son can't retain his calmness during exams and this has affected his performance. Am bringing him to a psychologist next week.
3 Responses
134578 tn?1578161083
I just read that anxiety is a reaction to feeling like things in life are out of one's control. Though people often feel that is true of tests ('Who knows what they will ask me?' etc.), it is less true in tests than some might assume, because people have control over how much they study and prepare. Your son should also know that (unless a particular instructor is a sadist) a test is simply designed to show what someone knows, or knows how to do. I hope your son will realize it's a neutral situation, not a negative one designed to trap him, and will also see that everyone will love him who loves him now no matter how he does on his tests.
Avatar universal
You might find better help on the anxiety forum -- this is the weight loss forum.  There's a difference between anxiety and nervousness.  Some people get nervous and some don't on tests.  Everyone has something they get nervous about.  Anxiety is a different thing, and when it's irrational or chronic it's an emotional problem.  If it's just tests, well, lots of people have this problem.  Know that it's not the test itself that's the problem, it's the way your son is thinking about the test.  If he gets nervous about lots of things, again, that's an emotional problem.  If it's just tests, then he just needs to work on that.  The more you do something, the easier it should get, as the brain learns there's nothing to fear.  Also, calmness is sometimes overrated when it comes to performance -- a lot of very successful people, including most pro athletes and celebrities, get nervous before performing, but the adrenaline this creates actually can help push us to perform.  For others, it can be a handicap.  In my family, I loved tests, it was like a game and it was finally my turn to get to talk, so to speak.  My brother got nervous about them.  Same family.  I would say a psychologist would help is this is a generalized problem, but if it's just tests, it might be better to find someone who works with folks on that specific problem.  All the best.
By the way, does he prepare thoroughly for tests?  Does he study?  Preparation, feeling prepared, goes a long way to easing a test that actually measures what you've learned (it doesn't do a whole lot for tests that don't measure things we've learned).  And I hope I was clear that if this is something that occurs for lots of things not just tests than yes, a psychologist would be a good idea.
973741 tn?1342346373
Such a common problem!  I have one son with intense anxiety (about most things) but in particular school work and one who probably could use  little more. The plus side of anxiety is that it keeps you on your toes and motivated to do well and the down side is that it can derail you during the test.  My son with anxiety has found a few things help.  One is that he takes deep breaths.  If he pictures blowing out candles on a cake, for example, it helps him get the deep calming breaths he needs.  He also is in high school and is allowed to have chewy mints in class.  These help I two ways. First, many people are soothed with oral activity (chewing gum, chewing on things in general and even smoking qualifies) and mint is alerting.  

Is your child a perfectionist by chance?  My son is and failure just isn't an option in his mind.  Failure means getting one point off too!  He's extremely hard on himself.  We do a lot of talking about no one expecting him to be perfect but him!   And that as long as he does his best, the outcome is okay.  I expect him to study and try his best but past that, there is so much you can control.  Proper preparation helps with anxiety.  Unless your son is like mine and has anxiety in general.  

But some kids just freeze.  I describe it like this . . .   your  brain is a high way.  Information is speeding along.  But if stress and anxiety comes on, it's like a pile up and the information stops moving along the high way or slows way down.  And it gets worse and worse as the cars begin to pile up.  So, keeping the high way free of the stress is really key.  

What grade is your son in?  Things like ACT prep books have really helpful tips for test taking in general. And we found the same kind of info in a Core subject 8th grade practice book.  There are strategies when taking tests that help if you get lost.  An example for a reading test . . .   don't read the passage first, read the question first and look for the answers to the question only rather than the other way around.  

Tell us more about your kiddo and we'll try to help!
I'm in my sixties now, but it seems to me that childhood has become a lot more stressful than it was in my youth.  Our stresses came mostly from the torture we inflicted on one another, but the pressure to do well in school was much less back then.  I don't know if that was a good idea or a bad one, as what happened was, a lot of kids just didn't bother caring at all.  That can come back to haunt you.  But still, everyone who didn't get sick turned out pretty well and did pretty well economically.  Obviously, doing really well in school opens up a host of opportunities, but I just don't remember most people thinking about it that way except a few whose parents had decided for them early they were going to be doctors.  I grew up to have a pretty severe anxiety problem, but back then I had my fears and I had things I wasn't afraid of.  I found dealing with tests easy because, again, for me it was a game, a challenge, like playing a good game of chess.  And, I was prepared.  I don't know if this works for anyone else or not but that was my mindset and the mindset of the people I grew up with.  I think today we are getting more like cultures such as the Koreans and Chinese, where many students are literally driven nuts by the pressure from their societies to do well in school.  It works, they have a lot of great students, but they lack the innovative thinking that abounds in the US.  In the US we have a lot of bad students, but a ton of creative thinking because most of us aren't afraid of thinking creatively and out of the box.  I think you pick your poison -- you can go for uniformity and more students will perform well and more will go nuts, or you can not stress that and more students will blow school off and suffer for it later but the society will benefit from a whole lot more creative thinking.  
And I don't really mean this as a political statement, because I don't know how to design a perfect educational system.  What I mean is, if you can demystify things, talent will out if you do the work.  And it won't make you nuts.  If you can learn to do that, I think it's a way to deal.    
The world has changed since you were in school.  But maybe not.  Maybe you just put a lot of people in boxes for what you personally saw and discount the rest of it.  I am a pretty hands off parent. My one caveat with my kids is they can't play video games if they don't have all A's.  Call me an ogre. I've not really had to test this before as they are both very personally motivated to be successful in school.    Kids take college level classes in high school now with the final test administered by the US College Board.  My son took one his freshman year in high school.  I don't sign him up for these things but his academic scores qualify him.  He has a peer group of very smart kiddos who are all wanting to do well.  and he has felt stupid his whole life due to his developmental delay so is on a constant quest to disprove that.     I did have a fair amount of pressure to do well in school myself.  I wanted to have a high gpa, I wanted to rank high in my class, I wanted to pick what major I could go into and go to the college of my choice.  I was an over achiever and liked it.  I'm not sure how long ago you went to school that this wasn't the situation for you too or you didn't think a lot of kids felt that way.  There were then and are still plenty of kids who don't care.  I think it is often either immaturity and not seeing the big picture.  They realize later that they should have cared and tried more.  Or they truly aren't quite there to do well so 'not caring' is what works to say back off to the world about it.

Current trend in education/teaching is student led learning.  Some people love it, some hate it for their kids.  Skills and drills are over.  Now kids can watch a you tube video to 'learn' about something rather than the traditional learning that used to take place.  They don't teach spelling like they used to because everyone is technologically hooked up and you have spell check.  Oh my gosh, parents go crazy over that one.      
I'm not going to argue education theory, nobody knows how to best educate anyone.  It's all political and how affluent your community is.  We know this because the evidence shows this to be true.  My main thing is here, pressure when it comes to education is either self-imposed and therefore can be theoretically demystified, or it's imposed from the outside, which you can't really avoid.  Anyone who becomes an adult knows that many who didn't try hard in lower grades discover themselves later and do very well, which means, you have no idea who is intelligent and who isn't because we can't measure intelligence, which is the ability to learn.  We can only sort of measure what we have learned by testing for that.  Now we have tremendous grade inflation for the affluent and grade deflation for the poor, but the affluent always have had access to better schools and more resources.  What didn't exist when I was young was the grade inflation, so most people were not going to be A students.  Grading was on a strict curve, and only the top 10% of a class was the top 10%.  Now you can get above an A average, which of course is logically impossible.  Classes used to be hard if your teacher was a demanding teacher and grader and not so hard if the opposite was true.  But the material required to be taught to everyone was what now is considered advanced placement or college prep.  Those classes are nowhere near how difficult a class is at a selective university, they are just like the ordinary classes we all took.  Which meant, there were a few great students by grade measure and then there were the great middle and then there were those who just didn't care at all.  I can't pretend to remember how they taught spelling -- I can't speak for what the normal student goes through, because I knew how to read and spell by teaching myself how to do that and I already knew how to do that somehow when I started school at 4 and a half years old.  How did I learn that?  My parents weren't involved with my education at all, so who knows?  I don't.  On the other hand, I couldn't fix or build anything, skills my father who never went to college at all just knew how to do.  The important thing for people to know is, it didn't make my life great to have been teaching math instead of studying it by fifth grade.   I still got mental illness and had my life ruined.  So my message is, if your pressure is self-imposed, that is a problem you can work on.  If it's imposed by your parents or your religion or your culture, it's a lot harder to fight against.  American has traditionally not been a place where education was emphasized but results of your actions was.  If you became a doctor or lawyer you made no more money than the guy who started a successful pizza joint.  It's complicated.  But what's important on this forum is how an anxious person can become less so.  And the only way to do that is to not let anyone or anything make you anxious.  Those of us with anxiety disorders have a hard or impossible time doing that because our brains are telling us to fear.  If that's reinforced from the outside, all the worse.  That's what I mean by demystifying it -- life isn't a contest.  We're all going to have good times and bad and then we're going to die and not take anything we accumulate here with us.  It is what it is.  If you're able to see that, life is just easier.  If you can't or won't, it's harder.  It's an objective truth, and most of human life is not objective, it's subjective because some group of people is trying to exert power in the society.  An example:  high tax societies are the wealthiest and happiest.  Low tax societies have the worst economies and societies that can't collect taxes fail completely.  Yet our politics are full of people who argue the opposite despite the objective experience of every society in human history.  That's just an example of outside pressure and how some really do want life to be harder for you so it seems easier for them, and it gets expressed most fully in education.  So I may be old and school is no doubt different now, but human reality isn't different.  There is a difference between being nervous and having an anxiety disorder.  And as for spell check, have you noticed how often it's wrong?  But heck, I'm old and I use it.  I've forgotten how to visualize a word, which I used to be able to do.  But you're right, a young person needs to learn how things are done, and when they get older and use shortcuts, it's okay because they already learned how it's done.  If you never learn it, you never understand it.  Keep up the good fight, everyone.  
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