10 year old acting out at school: test anxiety & social pressure

Dr. Laura,

We have just returned home from parents evening and are worried about our 10 year old daughter. She is in her last year of primary school and will be taking tests soon which will have an impact on where she is placed in secondary school. Her teacher has noticed a change in attitude and behaviour over the last few months to the point where she is being rude to adults and disruptive in class, resulting in her being sent out. Her teacher says she seems very angry. 

To her credit, we already knew of many of the incidents as we have a very open and honest relationship and she has come home angry and upset on several occasions and told me about these incidents. After having talked with her at length, and reading between the lines, there seems to be two underlying causes to her behavior. 

Firstly, she is very concerned about being left out of her friendship group and of what her friends say behind her back. The outbursts of anger at school seem to be happening when she feels that what is being asked of her might put her in a position where these things can occur, and incidentally, these changes in behavior coincide with change in friendship groups. 

Secondly she feels she can obtain a higher level in the literacy test than she is being put in for but does not believe she is capable of achieving the maths level she is being put in for and incidentally, it is during maths the majority of the disruption is happening. I can see she is trying to fit in with a new group if friends and this is important to her; hormones are kicking in and she feels the pressure of the upcoming exams in school. 

How do we help her deal with all this so she is in better control of her emotions, and consequently, her behavior at school?

Thank you!

Sounds like you have two issues. First, the friend group/social issue. Second, the maths test anxiety. 

 I would speak with the teacher about how to help her feel better about the math test. If she isn't anxious about it, she will act better leading up to it and she will do better on it. 

 As far as the social issue goes, welcome to the world of preteen girls. This is such tough stuff. I would be her listening board on a daily basis. Bite your tongue and just let her blow off steam. When possible, after she has off-loaded verbally, get her laughing. That lowers her anxiety level. Help her articulate in each instance how she is feeling. What is being asked of her? What are her choices? What might she choose? What might happen then? Help her notice the pressure to fit in, and the compromises she feels forced to make -- not by lecturing her, but by asking questions. You can't bypass this stage of development, but you can support her through it in a way that strengthens her awareness and good judgment -- and keeps her from acting out so much. 

Good luck!
Dr. Laura

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