This week up and down the country Year 6 students will be taking their KS2 SATs. Whilst a lot of preparation goes in to them, with children attending SATs revisions clubs, breakfast clubs, after school clubs and a myriad of other “add ons”, the reality is the exams themselves last a total of 3 hours and 55 minutes over the course of a week.
Many parents worry that unnecessary pressure is being put on their young children to achieve good scores in these tests, and in turn, children can often feel high levels of anxiety around their abilities. It’s not for us to wade in to the ongoing debates about standardised testing, but we did want to have a look at what you could do if your child is anxious, depressed or feeling stressed; no matter what the potential cause.
Causes of anxiety
Everyone is different, and we all have specific things that can make us feel anxious. For children, the first thing that causes them a problem is likely to be separation from a parent or constant care-giver. This can start from eight months of age and easily last up until three years old. This is a perfectly normal stage of development, and whilst every child will react differently, it does tend to be short lived.
Other common triggers can include the development of phobias, such as loud noises, insects, storms and heights. Starting school, or moving to a new class at the end of the year can also be a monumental upheaval that will leave many children feeling uncertain of what to expect.
Of course, exams and other school-based events can also bring with them their own issues, and this can be heightened in some way when a group of children are feeling the pressure to perform and do well.
Signs of anxiety
We all get anxious at times, regardless of our age and experiences, and there is nothing wrong with this. It can in fact be a healthy sign. However, it can become a problem if your anxiety is stopping you from doing your day to day tasks. Severe anxiety, that which gets in the way, can lead to low self-esteem and confidence, and may lead to withdrawal, which can in turn increase anxiety.
Young children can’t always understand or express how they feel, so some things you may need to look out for include:
- Waking in the night or general poor sleep
- Becoming irritable, tearful or crying for apparently no reason
- Bad dreams
- Wetting the bed
- Prone to angry outbursts
How to help
What you do to help will very much depend on your child, specifically how old they are. No matter what age, it’s important they know they can talk to you about whatever it is that’s bothering them. Maybe make time to sit quietly, just the two of you, and talk around certain topics till you find what the cause of their anxiety is.
It can also be very helpful for a child to hear about situations you have found difficult. If your 10 year old is worried about exams, maybe tell them about your experiences as a child. What did you do to calm your nerves? What do you find works for you now? What situations make you anxious as an adult?
It is vital that children know it’s OK to feel this way, and that they are not alone. Adults can be scared and worried too.