This blog is for educational purposes only.
Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that relates to fears and worries about engaging in a task or activity that has an evaluative component. Everybody experiences performance fears at different points in their lives and to different degrees.
Tasks and activities triggering performance anxiety most commonly include tests, presentations, and interviews. While some stress might lead to productivity and better performance, a high level of anxiety interferes with an individual's ability to think, reason, and perform well.
If your child shows intense test or performance anxiety that gets in the way of studying or doing their best, you might consider the following approach to address these issues to help them overcome their fears and build confidence.
Here are a few tips to open a discussion with your child. You can pick and choose questions and reflections that resonate with you.
2. Help your child find out what gets in the way of preparing and doing well on tests and presentations. We will call this a self-awareness part of overcoming the problem.
Here are some common factors that may impact people's preparation for tests and presentations and their performance in actual events.
Poor study habits/procrastination
Lack of skill/difficult subject
Anxiety coping strategies
Reinforce acceptance of anxiety: You can say, "Expect that you will get anxious and accept it when it happens." This powerful attitude will build up your child's ability to cope with big feelings, persevere, do their best, and take little strides every day in building self-acceptance and self-confidence.
Once you identify the contributing factors to your child's anxiety, you need to ask them which factors are within their control and which are not. Then tackle them one by one.
Reflect on this: "What are my goals? Depending on what gets in the way of doing well, my goals are: _________________________________________________________________ ."
Understand the underlying causes of poor performance. Address them. Make a plan.
Find which coping strategies work well for you and remind yourself to use them regularly.
Have fun! Encourage your child to notice when they're able to follow through on their plan and accomplish small goals.
Consider saying to your kids: "Notice when you do well despite feeling anxious. Notice when your fears get in the way of doing your best. When this happens, be kind to yourself! Get back on track knowing that you can handle your big fears and achieve many small goals to help you tackle bigger goals along the way."
Our book, Parent-Child Guide to Coping with Anxiety, provides step-by-step guidelines for caregivers and children to face anxiety-triggering situations with a sense of purpose, curiosity, and self-compassion and achieve small and big meaningful goals.
Wishing you strength and inspiration on the way to helping your child overcome their test and performance anxiety and build their confidence.
Notice small successes and how good it feels to achieve small goals.
This article is our October gift for you and your family!
Let us introduce Aimie!
We often hear the message, “Befriend your emotions.”
“But what does that mean?”—Ask me many kids and adults.
In our book, Parent-Child Guide to Coping with Anxiety, my young daughter and I developed a language to help kids talk to their emotions in a way that promotes self-compassion and self-acceptance.
I wrote this book for eight years, mainly in the evenings and on the weekends. My daughter happily helped, and we brainstormed many times how to explain to kids and their caregivers what it means to build a friendship with their emotions and to encourage them to develop self-compassion and self-acceptance.
When my daughter was about four years old and showed her first signs of anxiety, I helped her create Aimie—a character representing our Amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for human emotions (fear, anxiety, anger). Little by little, we designed our self-talk to speak to anxiety and other big feelings. This specific self-talk is one of the unique points in our book!
We felt validated that our main message to the readers was well-received:
“Describing anxiety as the product of a “Super-Protective-Aimie,” the book effectively destigmatizes fear, encouraging children and adults to see stress as a normal—even positive—hormonal response, which can result in happy outcomes.”--Kirkus Reviews
Some books on emotions in children present anxiety or worries as a monster, alien, or a bully and urge kids to talk back to their worry gremlin or beast. This approach might be helpful for some kids. I often received feedback that perceiving our worries as a monster makes some people angrier at themselves for experiencing anxiety.
Being frustrated with oneself for experiencing intense emotions activates the harsh self-critical voice inside ourselves, invalidating our vulnerabilities, causing shame, and prompting us to disown them.
I have learned over the years that this negative attitude toward anxiety may exacerbate people’s tendency to self-deprecation and self-blame and, in some cases, might even lead to self-harm. And all this affects self-esteem and weakens people’s sense of self.
Many of my clients wanted to find ways to perceive and respond to their worries differently that would work better for them. Therefore, in collaboration with my daughter and taking my clients’ feedback seriously, we crafted compassionate self-talk to our emotions.
What is people’s typical relationship with their anxiety?
Kids and teens are sometimes advised to talk back to their fears or make fun of them. One typical response is to get annoyed, anxious, or upset about feeling anxious, mad, or sad. This attitude might work for some in the short term but not in the long term.” In fact, talking back to anxiety with anger, resentment, and contempt and treating it as a “bully” makes it an unwanted emotion and contributes to maintaining the worry cycle. It also undermines cultivating self-acceptance, an essential ingredient for people’s physical and psychological well-being.
How to develop a new, more friendly relationship with anxiety?
We suggest the following way of relating to fears:
When we respond to our worries with self-compassion, we nurture our self-acceptance.
Living in line with our values energizes us and keeps us grounded. This, in turn, drives our motivation to face fears with balanced courage fueled by our value-driven life course and a sense of purpose.
Developing a different relationship with our emotions is a process that takes time and practice and brings fun along the way. This process has the following simple steps:
“To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn
2. Name your emotion and focus on your breathing
3. Allow your emotion to happen. Sit with it, focus on your breathing, and observe it non-judgmentally and with a sense of wonder. You can say to yourself:
4. Tell yourself that you can handle the emotions triggered by a situation, memory, or person.
5. Learn to talk to your emotions and anxious thoughts in a way that makes them an integral, valuable part of your experience.
Finding the right self-compassionate self-talk that works for you in the midst of a chaotic, emotional rollercoaster is a process that takes time. It’s worth the investment of the time to reflect on, and craft the powerful self-talk affirmations or mantras as integrating self-acceptance into our sense of self disarms the harsh inner self-critic.
Compassionate and validating self-talk nurtures self-acceptance and transforms our vulnerabilities into a powerful energy that facilitates the paving of meaningful pathways in our lives.
Our book, Parent-Child Guide to Coping with Anxiety, provides step-by-step guidelines on developing this compassionate self-talk with specific examples from my insightful daughter.
You will learn to appreciate the what, the why, and the how of your emotional experiences and integrate them into a self-awareness journey, enabling you to pave your values path courageously. On this path, we encourage you to sprinkle the practices of self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-growth, and joy to help you move forward in moments of pain and self-doubt, enjoying the togetherness of this journey with your family, friends, and community.
Our book explains the process of experiencing strong emotions in more depth with many child-friendly illustrations, examples, and easy-to-do mindful daily practices.
You can check it out here: Bookstore - DR. DESSY & LORA MARINOVA (drdessy.ca)
Lora and I wish you a fun and mindful journey of learning to accept and befriend your emotions and love and accept yourself just the way you are!
Lora and Dr. Dessy
Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT. New Harbinger Publications.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness And Meditation in Everyday Life. Hyperion.
Marinova, D. (2022). Parent-Child Guide to Coping with Anxiety. FriesenPress.
Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. HarperCollins.
The new school year is just around the corner. As with any new transition in our lives, it evokes different thoughts and feelings in many people.
In my practice, many families have shared over the years that they think that their child needs two to three weeks to adapt to their new teachers, class, and friends. So, they get disappointed when this doesn't happen.
Remember: The transition to a new school year usually doesn’t conclude in the first few weeks. It's more realistic to armor yourself with patience that, depending on your child and family circumstances, your kid might need three or four months to settle into a routine with a new teacher and classmates. In most cases, adjusting to a new grade level requires patience, self-care, consistency in adhering to daily, school, and study routines, and building new skills upon existing ones.
Ask yourself: How do I talk to my kids about the challenges and opportunities this school year offers?
Here are a few tips to open a discussion with your child. You can pick and choose questions and reflections that resonate with you.
For you, as a parent
You can consider the following steps in supporting your children in successfully settling into the new school year.
1. Identify potential challenges that your child or any of your kids is experiencing:
2. Set small goals that are realistic and meaningful to you and your child. Ask yourself:
3. Ask yourself one or more of these questions:
3. Make a decision:
4. Help your child recognize important pillars in their lives that provide stability and nurture their confidence to deal with setbacks. Some of those pillars include but are not limited to …
Help your child recognize that every school year is the same in some ways and different in other ways. Where appropriate, discuss each of these.
For your kids
Here are a few areas you can focus on to naturally and consistently reinforce skill building in your kids:
Make a plan
Create structure and predictability
Deal with anticipatory anxiety
Recall past successes
Focus on small daily successes
Help your child notice and cherish joyful moments daily, using their senses to experience them fully. For example, when you notice feeling excited about an event, happy to connect with a friend, or just feeling good about having a nice day, pay attention to what you see around you, hear, how you move, and remember to breathe. Notice how good it feels to take a deep breath and the pleasure of letting go when you breathe out fully.
Cultivate full presence to show support and patience in helping your child persevere in building important skills.
Help yourself, and your child notice when things work.
Treat yourself and your child with compassion when you both deal with setbacks.
Create opportunities for joyful moments of appreciation of your efforts and small daily triumphs.
Wishing you a successful and fulfilled school year!
Dr. Dessy Marinova
Our book, Parent-Child Guide to Coping with Anxiety, has fun and easy mindful practices to help your family deal with stress and enjoy fully small and big daily events.
Parent-Child Guide to Coping with Anxiety is now a reality. Lora and I are very excited to announce its release by FriesenPress. By sharing our experiences working together to learn and integrate stress coping skills in our lives, we hope to inspire many parents and children to do the same.
The publication of this book marks a new beginning. The eight-year-long writing process repeatedly triggered memories of all new chapters in our lives that brought about meaningful changes and prepared us to seize great opportunities.
We all experience new life chapters, propelling us to adjust to a fluid set of circumstances known as life transitions. Some of these new chapters are normative developmental transitions like the transition from childhood to adolescence, transition to adulthood, middle age, and old age. Some transitions are driven by life's unexpected forces and people's instincts to survive and keep going. I call these transitions tough as they might include facing adverse events like natural disasters, illnesses, pandemics, losses, and so on. There are also transitions that are driven by our motivations to improve our lives, the lives of our loved ones, and our communities. Let's call these transitions uplifting. Sometimes, all these kinds of changes are somehow separated. At other times, they occur all at once, prompting us to think, act, and reorganize our lives at a new or different level.
Parent-Child Guide to Coping with Anxiety aims to support everyone who chooses to deal with their anxiety, stresses, and life transitions head-on while staying true to their values. Throughout the workbook, Lora and I convey several important messages to our readers:
(1) Emotional regulation skills support us when dealing with life stresses and embracing new developments with a sense of purpose and legacy.
When we face a major life transition, our stress level naturally increases and sometimes weakens our ability to cope. Parent-Child Guide to Coping with Anxiety provides a tool kit for caregivers and their children to support them in managing big feelings while learning to navigate various obstacles. The readers will learn to identify their values, motivations, and desires to live in ways that are meaningful and helpful for them.
Our main message is this: embrace life's unavoidable stumbling blocks as a learning challenge that "will help me cope well with stress and setbacks, drawing positive energy from my sense of purpose and belonging to my family and community."
(2) When caregivers deal effectively with their stresses using a repertoire of coping tools to help them survive and thrive, this has a spillover effect on their children.
Many years of cross-cultural research have shown that parents' mental health impacts their children's health and well-being. When parents are able to manage their feelings and deal effectively with life obstacles, they provide role modeling for their children, thus laying a foundation for intergenerational resilience. Consequently, children build resilience by learning emotion regulation skills naturally.
"Parent-Child Guide to Coping with Anxiety" will encourage parents to reflect on their stresses, strengths, and values and understand how these impact their daily lives and the lives of their loved ones. Caregivers will learn about the five pillars of parental resilience and how to support their children's social-emotional development by modeling and gently reinforcing the five pillars of success.
(3) Parent-Child to Coping with Anxiety has a biographical component.
When we encounter any life challenge – loss, an obstacle, unfairness, and a "tough" transition to a new sense of being – we experience big feelings. Learning to accept, allow, and regulate these feelings and related thoughts and actions is vital in reaching our goals while surfing life's turbulent waves. We can cope with each developmental, tough, or uplifting transition in two ways:
By engaging in joint practices of reflecting on their experiences, parents and children will create more opportunities for deep connections, meaningful conversations, and solving various problems aligned with what matters to them, strengthening positive family memories.
Parent and child readers will learn that training their brains to deal with anxiety and other big feelings will help them to . . .
~ reinforce positive relationships within their families, friends, and others in the community,
~ enhance their ability to cope with significant life obstacles by learning to be psychologically flexible and resilient, and
~ live their lives with joy and appreciation of their efforts and successes by learning from their vulnerabilities, using their strengths, and shaping their sense of purpose and meaning.
Lora and I hope to inspire caregivers and children to gently challenge their comfort zone by learning anxiety-conquering practices while building a resilient mindset.
We wish you curiosity, patience, and joy in your family journey on the pathway our workbook would empower you to pave together and build a fulfilling life story!
Lora and Dr. Dessy