- Written by Jennifer Clark Estes
Test anxiety. Most of us have it, to some degree. (See? Your palms are getting sweaty just thinking about sitting for an exam.) For diabetic children, test stress is even more problematic, since stress can cause high blood sugar, which causes a myriad of negative physical symptoms, none of which are conducive to performing at one's academic best.
But, with a little planning, there are some things you can do to help your diabetic child conquer the side effects of test anxiety.
1. Practice relaxation techniques in the weeks before a test. The pressure of testing will naturally raise a child's feelings of stress and anxiety, which in turn can raise her blood sugar – which causes a fuzzy mind. Obviously, a fuzzy mind isn't a test-ready mind! Help your child learn how to calm herself by using techniques such as deep breathing, positive visualization, and meditation. Starting a short, daily yoga practice can actually decrease the feelings of pressure in intense situations like exams, not to mention contributing to a constant overall sense of well-being. Try getting everyone in the family on the mat!
2. Get a good night's sleep. This seems rather obvious, but it's a crucial step for test preparation. After an early dinner, have everyone settle in to bed with a good book (after a few minutes of yoga, of course.) Turn off the TV and all electronics, as these will stimulate the brain rather than relax it. Remember that calm equals normal blood sugar.
3. Eat breakfast early. Doing this will give the insulin time to do its job. Find out what time the test is and work backwards – ideally, your child should take the exam no sooner than two hours after eating. Remember that eating any carbs will raise blood sugar initially, even when you've given the appropriate insulin.
4. Eat a good breakfast. Feed your child something that's heavy on the protein, low on the carbs. Mitzi's best test-day breakfast is scrambled eggs and a slice of toast. Other options include a cheese quesadilla or a low-sugar yogurt smoothie with added protein powder. Make sure there is a little fat in the meal -- butter on toast, low-fat (not nonfat) yogurt. Stay away from sugary cereals, which will cause a spike in blood sugar that will take some time to come down, even though insulin is going through your child's system.
5. Check your 504 plan. If you don't already have a Section 504 plan in place, develop one with your school administration. These laws ensure that students with diabetes can care for their medical needs while at school. Among other accommodations, Mitzi has to check her blood sugar before any test that is longer than a few minutes. If her number is off, she has to wait to take the test. She also must be allowed to have a snack, to stretch and use relaxation techniques, and to drink plenty of water, all of which helps her blood sugar remain normal for ideal testing.
Exam day is going to be stressful, no doubt about it. But with a little preparation beforehand, your child will be ready to tackle the challenge.