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Pre-Test Stress

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: My fifth-grade son is an A student and in honors classes. Lately, the teacher has explained he has been experiencing some anxiety and nervousness. When he takes a test he gets all the math procedures correct but makes careless errors. He is a very sensitive child and is very hard on himself. Are there exercises or things he can do to calm down when he's in situations that seem to overwhelm him? Would you recommend counseling?

A: Look for books that deal with stress in children and how to help them cope with it. Most of the books have directions for simple relaxation techniques children can use in times of stress, such as controlling their breathing or tensing and then relaxing groups of muscles. Your son could do the relaxation exercises just before taking (or even during) a test and no one would even realize what he was doing.

Talk with the school counselor. He may be able to give your son some individual time or include him in a small group on stress reduction. This is most likely a problem for other children in your son's honor classes as well, and the counselor may want to work with the entire class to teach them some stress management techniques.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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