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Helping your kids deal with FCAT stress

April 09, 2012

About ten years ago, I had the pleasure of working as a counselor at an Orange County public elementary school. The kids were great, and I really enjoyed counseling them and trying to help them through different challenges that they faced. Throughout my time there, I noticed how much things had changed since I was in elementary school. One of the biggest changes I felt was that it seemed that “Spring Fever” had been replaced with “FCAT Fever”.

These days, when we flip our calendars to March, the kids know that “FCAT is coming”. Actually, most kids are already well aware, having been told and reminded of the test long before March comes around. Most kids are already being told about FCAT when the school year starts, as early as August or September.

While working at that elementary school, my eyes were opened to some of the experiences that some children have when it comes to taking the FCAT. Most of my time from February through March was spent dealing with anxiety and teaching relaxation and coping skills in response to the stress felt by a lot of the kids regarding the FCAT test. Now, working at Teen Xpress, I hear concerns regarding the FCAT from middle school and high school students.

Students seem to have a wide range of feelings when it comes to taking the FCAT. Some students take it in stride, exhibiting very little, if any, stress or worry. Often times, these are kids that naturally excel in academics and feel confident that they will do well. Many other students feel a great deal of anxiety, worrying that they will not do well, might not pass, will disappoint their families, will get in trouble, or for some, that they will have to repeat a grade. In my experience, most students feel at least some level of worry or concern regarding the test.  So, how do we help our kids do their best on completing this very important task?

Feed them!

Of course, as parents, we know the importance of eating breakfast the day of the FCAT test, but I’m thinking more along the lines of feeding their souls. Build up your kiddo!  Encourage them! Tell them that you love them no matter what, and you’ll be proud if they just do their best. Help elevate their ego a little bit, so that they know, regardless of what happens, they will have your support and love.

Make it fun?!

It may be challenging to think of ways to make taking a high stakes standardized test fun, but we, as parents, can certainly try. Consider these ideas:
  • Slip a little love note or some encouraging words into their folder or book bag for every day that they are testing.
  • Build in some time for them to blow off a little steam; play a family game, go get some ice cream, take a day trip to the beach during the weekend.
  • Cheer your kid on. Enlist the help of other family members to make some encouraging posters or signs to hang up around the house.
  • Put together an “FCAT Survival Kit” for your child.  It doesn’t have to be anything major, just a little bag of goodies… extra pencils and erasers, a stress ball, a roll of “Smarties”, a bottle of water and a banana, a coupon for that above mentioned ice cream cone. You get the idea.

Be there for them.

I know I am sometimes guilty of getting caught up with my busy life of being a mom and wife, as well as working full time, and forget that being a kid in 2012 is really no easy task. I am sure I’m not the only one. If the tables were turned, and I had to take a test every year that determined how good of an employee I was, or whether or not I could keep my job, I’d be pretty stressed out too! Taking the time to hear our kids’ concerns helps them feel validated, important, and cared about. We don’t need to tell them not to worry or that they will do fine. That can cause them to feel frustrated and feel that we don’t understand or aren’t really hearing their concerns. Instead, just let them talk about how they feel and empathize by letting them know we get it and are there for them, no matter what.

Deal with it!

For most of us, whether our kids like it or not, they are going to have to take that FCAT. Encourage them to deal with feelings of stress by engaging in healthy coping skills: exercising, resting, spending time with friends or family, studying, all done in appropriate amounts of time can increase a child’s confidence and decrease feelings of anxiety.

Prep and Plan!

As mentioned earlier, kids know about the FCAT long before it is time to take it, and most of us parents do too. Meet or email with your kids’ teachers to assess where they are and how they are doing academically. Work with them to sharpen their study skills and to strengthen their abilities in certain areas.  f you are too busy, or just not the “Let’s hit the books together” type of parent, then see if you can help them find a tutor, a friend, or someone that is able to work with them. As FCAT approaches, encourage healthy habits, such as getting enough rest, and eating healthy meals and snacks to increase your child’s energy and ability to focus.

FCAT can be a tough experience for all of us;  the students, parents, teachers, and administrators. We all the feel the pressure, and we all want our children as well as our children’s schools to succeed. As parents, we are often the ones that know our kids best and know what will and won’t work for them when it comes to preparing and succeeding at the FCAT. Think about how you can help them and be there for them, and ask them what they think will help… Do what you can to help meet any reasonable requests. Good luck, parents! Please take the time to share any comments or tips that might be helpful for the rest of us. After all, we are all in this together!

For more information on the FCAT: (Testing dates are available at this site)