A Response to: Is Your Child a "Warrior" or "Worrier"?

CJ Westerberg, October 22, 2015 10:05 PM


Why Some Kids Handle Test Pressure and Others . . .  Not.

DSC_0163-1_2.jpgby C.J. Westerberg

The first part of the article Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure and Others Fall Apart? mainly focuses on student anxiety related to test-taking with fleeting mentions in other arenas, such as sport or artistic performances.  According to authors Merryman and Bronson,  how one deals with stress - whether one uses it to perform better or to perform less than optimal -  has much to do with brain chemistry:

"The people who perform best in normal conditions may not be the same people
who perform best under stress," Diamond says. People born with the fast-acting enzymes "actually need the stress to perform their best." To them, the everyday is underwhelming; it doesn't excite them enough to stimulate the sharpness of mind
of which they are capable. They benefit from that surge in dopamine - it raises the
level up to optimal. They are like Superman emerging from the phone booth in
times of crisis; their abilities to concentrate and solve problems go up.

Some scholars have suggested that we are all Warriors or Worriers. Those with fast-acting dopamine clearers are the Warriors, ready for threatening environments where maximum performance is required. Those with slow-acting dopamine clearers
are the Worriers, capable of more complex planning. Over the course of evolution,
 both Warriors and Worriers were necessary for human tribes to survive.

But doesn't it depend? 
We all know the student who can waltz through a theater performance yet crash and burn during a test, or a high school student who is a confident test-taker but chokes during a speech.

stress2.girl-in-a-jar.jpgSo while the single-shot stakes of a standardized exam is particularly ill suited for Worrier genotypes, this doesn't mean that they should be shielded from all challenge. In fact, shielding them could be the worst response, depriving them of the chance to acclimate to recurring stressors.
Johnson explains this as a form of stress inoculation: You tax them without overwhelming them. "And then allow for sufficient recovery," he continued. Training, preparation and repetition defuse the Worrier's curse.

It would be fairly difficult to go through life "shielded from all challenge".  Sounds like practice-makes-habit but aren't we talking about test prep and how to practice how to take a test?

  (See  my review of Sian Bellock's book in the post Choke, Test-Takers: A New Way to Look at Test-Prep? )  And shouldn't there be other forms of assessments, such as portfolios of work as expressed by educator Tony Wagner in his book, Creating Innovators?

The article then advocates for more competition - the right kind - among students to acclimate them to the stresses one needs to be able to handle
in life.  The authors make the case that  the SAT and other high-stakes standardized tests "lack the side benefits of competing that normally buffer children's anxiety."  The answer?  Bring on academic competitions such as spelling bees, Math competitions and chess clubs.

High-stakes academic testing isn't going away. Nor should competition among
students. In fact several scholars have concluded that what students need is more academic competition, but modeled on the kinds children enjoy.

One would think the above-mentioned forms of "right" competition usually would be selected by students themselves. In other words, these are venues of choice.  I would think a poor speller wouldn't exactly be thrilled by the prospect of a public spelling bee competition.  Rick Lavoie tackles the issue of competition along this line of thinking.  In fact, he believes
there is another greater motivator which I won't spoil for you - check out
The 3 Myths about Competition: How it affects student motivation.  

What say ye on this topic?  You may also want to see the Kindergarten Test Prep video below, especially the 2:30-4:00 mark - it's a gem.  You'll see
what I mean.
  Video runs 5 minutes.


  • I am a worrier.

  • disruptive

    I was definitely a worrier as a child, however, I much improved as I got older. I found myself quite shy in the classroom and self conscious. I'm quite jealous that these days kids can learn so many amazing things from the comfort of their home.

  • that video is really something else and seems totally professional the way it has been captured. must to read by kids to stay out of trouble. Do visit my blog, you may find some nice articles there -

  • Make Your Worrier a Warrior provides useful and comforting methods that parents can use to help their children create an anxiety-reducing “toolbox” to carry with them wherever they go. In building this foundation for their children, parents will find that these strategies will work just as effectively to manage their own anxieties.



  • Mohd Mobin

    In fact have working with kids and adolescents, who had learning problems for some time before learning that children were dyslexic, several years after being in
    practice. Raising childrens with dyslexia deepened my own experience

blog comments powered by Disqus
The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they - at some distant point in the future - will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely... because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.
Alvin Toffler
Follow The Daily Riff on Follow TDR on Twitter

find us on facebook


Seven Questions: Is your child a recipe-follower or a real learner?

CJ Westerberg, 10.22.2015

John Holt: The Seven Ways to Picture a Student's Understanding - - - by CJ Westerberg

Read Post | Comments

Riffing good stories


A Response to: Is Your Child a "Warrior" or "Worrier"?

CJ Westerberg, 10.22.2015

Why Some Kids Handle Test Pressure and Others . . . Not.

Read Post | Comments

Two Schools: Which one builds a better bully?

CJ Westerberg, 10.21.2015

"Education-as-we-know-it is about building hierarchies - among athletes . . . "

Read Post | Comments

"Children just don't go out in nature"

CJ Westerberg, 10.21.2015

Children today spend on average spend less than 40 minutes "outside" - Video Doc

Read Post | Comments

What do you remember from high school? (Humor)

CJ Westerberg, 10.16.2015

Week-end Funnies - VIDEO Viral video parody (nudity alert!) Some Study That I Used to Know is already at 1.5 million views. It's another play on Goyte's hugely viral video

Read Post | Comments
michael jordan.jpg
michael jordan.jpg

Famous Failures who didn't "make the grade"

CJ Westerberg, 10.13.2015

What Michael Jordan and Thomas Edison had in common - One Minute Video

Read Post | Comments

Common Core: Standard Children?

CJ Westerberg, 10.09.2015

We cannot wish away our biological limitations because we find them inconvenient.

Read Post | Comments

Being Pegged, Late Bloomers and Effort

CJ Westerberg, 10.09.2015

How 2012 Nobel Prize Winner Dissed by His High School Biology Teacher

Read Post | Comments

More Featured Posts