When children are being put into an unavoidable stress situation, for example, being given a test, meeting new people, or facing a challenge, some physical outlets to drain off excess anxiety are helpful. These might include something to touch, hold, squeeze, stroke, rub, bend- something that allows them to release anxiety through physical activity.
With Sandy, who had to be tested periodically by an outside evaluator regarding her progress in remedial academic work through tutoring, I was very conscious how her test-taking anxiety got in the way of her successful performance.
I noticed how anxious Sandy was when she and I went through a mock spelling test in preparation for her classroom spelling test. When I saw how she played with and often broke a pencil in her anxiety, I tried giving her a hunk of clay to mold, a rubber ball to squeeze, or a stuffed animal to hug. The object she manipulated allowed her to release anxiety through her hands as she worked verbally at the spelling test.
Tommy was the first of my tutoring students scheduled to be tested who talked freely about how he wished it could be me who would be the tester and how nervous he was at the thought of being tested.
On the day I was going to do a mock testing with Tommy as a preparation for the actual test, I brought my own pet dog to the clinic, because I knew how much Tommy liked dogs. Tommy held Willie on his lap and petted him as he worked verbally at the testing with me. The harder his mind worked, the harder his hand petted. Willie seemed to enjoy it all. The anxiety that flowed out through Tommy’s petting freed his mind to function more adequately. It also put a very special and pleasurable aspect into the testing situation.
With both Tommy and Sandy, the testing preparations had gone so well they were psychologically relaxed and ready for success in the actual test situation. And both did remarkably well. Being relaxed had made a significant difference. With less anxiety and a more realistic esteem for their own ability, they performed accordingly.
That I also cared enough about Sandy’s and Tommy’s anxiety to find ways to help them deal with it made them feel supported and secure. They knew definitely that I was on their side and that I would do everything I could to help them be as successful as possible. I was cheering for them, and they knew it.
In the end, this test did not have the adversary quality about it for Sandy and Tommy as tests usually did. (Sometimes tests feel as if teachers are trying to find out what you don’t know so they can be critical for you.) Tommy and Sandy knew my intent was not to criticize but support, that I was not their adversary but more like their temmate or coach.
Willie’s friendliness and appeal overflowed too, so the total environment felt more friendly and appealing to Tommy. All of this was designed to build for him a place where he felt safe and valuable, esteemed by me (as well as the dog), and more in touch with his own peacefulness and growing self-Esteem.
Self-Esteem Principle: As as friend, you can be forsightful enough to provide ways of releasing anxiety in children since children with low self-esteem might never think of it or know how to do it for themselves.