Zachary has an anxiety disorder.  He worries a lot.  He is in a constant state of stress.

One of his anxieties is school.  Namely, failing school.  Last year he was always afraid of failing 2nd grade.  This year he is terrified of failing 3rd grade.

While all of his grades are currently passing, there is a big test that looms over the heads of all students in Texas’ public schools.  The TAKS test.  3rd graders are required to pass TAKS, or they are retained in 3rd grade.  And Zach is scared of it.

The TAKS test doesn’t take place until March or April, but today the students are taking a practice test.  As should be the case, this practice test is taken quite seriously.  It gives teachers, students, parents, and administration a good idea of where the students are in learning the required content.

I know that a speech from the teacher to reiterate the importance of the tests is sometimes in order for a class filled with clowns or goof-offs.  I know that since the test is of utmost importance to the teacher, the school, and the district, they feel the need to remind the students that their lives depend on their passing TAKS.

But I also know that a child like Zachary– who is already miserably dreading TAKS, who is already convinced that he is going to fail, who already takes the test very seriously as if his life did literally depend on it–  does not need a reminder of its importance.  And in fact, a reminder of its importance may have quite a negative effect on the results of his test taking.

Zachary came home from school yesterday and announced, “Tomorrow is the day I find out if I failed 3rd grade.”

Wow!  How’s that for pressure??

How frustrating to be trying so hard at home to get Zach’s anxieties under control only to be thrown this huge wrench of anxiety from school.  Ugh!

Remembering that today’s test is actually just a practice test, I tried to convince him that this wasn’t THE test.  But he wouldn’t be convinced.  But thankfully he didn’t mention the test much more before bed.

But then at 1:00AM, he came running to my room, crying.  “I’m going to fail 3rd grade!  I don’t want to fail 3rd grade!”

I, of course, told him he wasn’t going to fail . . . that we don’t have to worry about that because he’s going to do his best . . . that he is not going to fail 3rd grade.

He quieted down and got into bed with me.  We snuggled up close and tight just like he likes.  His little body fidgeted, writhed, and jerked as it so often does when he tries to go to sleep — his anxious little body fighting him while he tries to relax.  Every few moments his sleepy, sad voice would say that he was going to fail.  I realized that his anxieties were speaking loud and clear in his little mind, convincing him that he would, indeed, fail.

It was then that I got the idea of whispering to him a different phrase, hoping it would drown out the whispers that were haunting him.  I wasn’t sure how he would respond to my whispering.  I thought maybe he would tell me to stop and get frustrated.  But as I watched his little body jerk nervously and listened to his whimpers, I decided to take the chance.

While we cuddled, I placed my hand on his face — a tactic which has had a calming effect on him since he was an infant — and got my lips up close to his ear.

“You are smart and you will pass,” I whispered so gently.  “You are smart and you will pass.  You are smart and you will pass,” I repeated.

He did not tell me to stop.  And after a minute or so, his writhing slowed and his body relaxed just a bit.  My words were working.

“You are smart and you will pass,” I repeated with each breath.  And I prayed as I spoke that my words would penetrate his mind and heart until he believed it.

For 10 minutes or more, I whispered the sentence in his ear.  When he got a little fidgety, I thought maybe he had heard enough so I stopped speaking.

But he immediately whispered sleepily, “Do more of that.”

So I continued for quite a while, even after his body had relaxed into sleep.  While he snored, I whispered, “You are smart and you will pass.  You are smart and you will pass.  You are smart and you will pass.”

He woke again later in the night and whimpered a little bit.  Then he snuggled up close and requested, “Do more of that.”  So I whispered again, “You are smart and you will pass.  You are smart and you will pass.”

This morning he didn’t want to go to school.  “I’m going to fail 3rd grade today,” he said.

But big brother came to the rescue!  Elliot was able to convince him that today’s test was not the real thing so Zach went off to school feeling okay.

pray like crazy that he passes today’s test!

And I pray that as he sat in the quiet classroom taking his test today, that Zachary heard my whispered words in his ear:  “You are smart and you will pass.  You are smart and you will pass.”


13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Laura on January 20, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    You know that Katie was literally SICK for a full two weeks before she took her first TAKS test. The way that the state of Texas has forced teachers to deal with this test makes ME sick. Katie does NOT have test anxiety, but she still ate very little and had diarrhea for those two weeks. Now how’s this for a chapper? When the results from the real test came in, her teacher announced to the class…”There was only one student in this class that did not receive a “Commended” score.” Now granted she did not say the kids name, but that kid knew! Isn’t that horrible? She could not just be happy that they all did well! It is NOT the end of the world if he does not do well.

    Just make sure that if there are any mods in his paperwork (is he considered 504 or special ed?) that they are honored! Sometimes schools get lazy about that!

    I’m anxious to hear.


  2. Posted by 5kidswdisabilities on January 20, 2010 at 6:30 PM

    What a lovely story!!! It is difficult enough at school for our children without adding the stress of possibly failing! ANYONE would be anxious about that.
    Lindsey Petersen


  3. Posted by Mandye on January 20, 2010 at 9:00 PM

    Chris was sick yesterday so I don’t know if he remembered about the test today. He was in a real sad mood today when I picked him up from school. I thought that something had happened, and it did, he took the MAP test and was sure he failed. I DREAD the week of TAKS. Chris came home from the first day of 3rd grade saying that he could not pass “that test”. So sad. We are causing them to be so anxious so young. I tell Chris the same positive affirmation that you tell Zachary. I’m not sure how much stays in his brain, too. I wish the educators knew what Chris and Zach have been through and what a minor miracle it is that they are able to learn and do what they are doing. I cry every time I have an ARD. The whole time they are talking about what he can’t do or needs help with and all I can think about is how sick he was and how amazing it is for him to be at the point he is and how proud I am of him. I want them to see that too, but they can’t, they weren’t there. One test should not cause this much trauma and should not label a child.


    • Mandye, that is so beautifully said! It is so true that both of our boys are walking miracles — and I wouldn’t even call them minor! And, yes, I fear that we are destroying their little psyches with the stress of measuring up. They are only 8 and 9 years old! It makes me crazy! I hate that I am put in the position to try to agree with the school and teach responsibility and work ethic but also try to downplay the whole thing because of Zach’s stress level. Your comment makes me cry . . . . we are proud of our boys, and we build them up at home. . . . Ugh.


  4. Posted by Heidi Higdon on January 21, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    I don’t know what kind of teacher Zac has and how she is with his special needs…….but if she is good she would take your and Zacs fears to heart and do all she can to help…..Admin too. I would like to know too if hes considered 504 or not……there are reasons all that is in place and if they are not being senitive to his needs I would do some “squaking” as his mom/advocate. (my opinion)!!


  5. Posted by Jamie on January 23, 2010 at 11:31 AM

    Kelly…you are a smart mom and you have passed!! This post made me cry!! Bless it, thanking God, Zippy has a sweet Mom who loves him and is protecting him!!


  6. Posted by Sara on January 24, 2010 at 7:46 PM

    This post made me cry too! I hate that for Zippy! What a gift you were giving him that night by speaking truth over and over in his ear! Beautiful!


  7. Posted by Tia on January 26, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    I can’t agree with you more. Our kids shouldn’t even KNOW that there is a special test. It kills me when I hear a teacher saying “On the TAKS test you may have this question and this is how to answer it.” It also kills me that the curriculum and lesson plans are geared solely for passing this test, all other subjects fall to the wayside.


  8. […] TAKS — it has literally threatened the well-being of my child all year! […]


  9. […] that Zippy was very anxious all year long that he would fail the test and thus fail 3rd grade.  Very […]


  10. […] had been pretty quiet up until now.  In fact, comparing his anxiety level to this time last year, there was really no comparison.  I think the anxiety medications he is taking have really helped […]


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