Evaluation Anxiety: How It Affects Children

Evaluation anxiety is a state of fear, uneasiness, or nervousness, which arises from the possibility of being judged by others. Learn more.
Evaluation Anxiety: How It Affects Children
Elena Sanz Martín

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Your child has been practicing a dance or a skill all week and you’ve seen how well they do it for yourself. However, on the weekend, when they go to show it to their grandparents and aunts, and uncles, they get stuck, make mistakes, and give the impression that they haven’t rehearsed. Have you ever experienced such a situation? This is the result of evaluation anxiety, a phenomenon that affects us all, but can be more damaging to children.

This poor performance that occurs when we act under the watchful eye of others is the result of anxiety and can have important repercussions in children’s lives. For example, it could hinder their ability to socialize or affect their academic performance. That’s why, as a mother, it’s essential that you know about it and help your child to prevent its effects. We’ll tell you how to do it.

What is evaluation anxiety?

Evaluation anxiety is a state of fear, uneasiness, or nervousness that arises from the possibility of being judged by others.

We fear being evaluated by others when we have to take an exam or give a public presentation. But this fear can also arise when talking to other people or doing any activity in which we feel we must prove our worth. Paradoxically, this same anxiety blocks us and makes our performance much lower than expected.

Although there are individuals more prone than others to suffer from evaluation anxiety, in reality, we all experience these types of feelings at various times in life. The difference is that adults have a greater ability to understand and manage what’s happening, while children can feel very blocked and guilty, especially in certain contexts that we’ll discuss below.

A mother acting frustrated with her young daughter.
Raising children under high demands can be detrimental to their emotional development and favor the emergence of test anxiety.

Factors that influence evaluation anxiety

Evaluation anxiety doesn’t always occur with the same ease or intensity, but there are several factors that make a difference. Here’s what they are.

Temperament and personal characteristics

An anxious, preoccupied, or inhibited temperament makes a person more vulnerable to criticism and failure; therefore, it’s easier for them to experience fear of evaluation. These children are particularly sensitive to rejection and may show more intense reactions to the possibility of being judged by others.

The difficulty of the task

Interesting research has been done on this subject and has concluded that evaluation anxiety depends largely on the type of task being performed. For simple, when it comes to mechanical activities, this anxiety component may be unaffected or even stimulating. A certain degree of alertness helps us to pay attention and become more involved and, therefore, make fewer errors.

On the contrary, in those tasks that are more cognitively demanding and complex, anxiety is counterproductive. In these cases, performance will be worse and fear will be more limiting.

Expertise and experience

The child’s ability also plays an important role. If the child is faced with a task that they’ve mastered and successfully completed multiple times, the fear of evaluation will be less. On the other hand, if the child is faced with a novel challenge or one for which they don’t feel particularly skilled, they’ll suffer to a greater extent.

Assessment and evaluators

Finally, some characteristics of the assessment situation also have a great impact. For example, a quiz doesn’t produce the same anxiety as a final exam. And acting clumsily in front of a friend or a trustworthy person doesn’t arouse the same fear as doing so in front of an external and unknown judge with a threatening appearance. In the latter case, evaluation anxiety is triggered.

A woman comforting her crying daughter.
Create an environment where making mistakes is allowed and tasks can be performed with motivation but without fear.

How to help your children deal with evaluation anxiety?

If you’ve detected that your children often suffer from evaluation anxiety and that it limits them in their daily lives, here are some guidelines that you can follow to help them:

  • Explain to them what evaluation anxiety is and why it happens. This will help them understand what they’re feeling and know that it’s completely natural and valid. This will reduce fear and guilt.
  • Give them tools to manage anxiety. Simple breathing or relaxation techniques can be very useful. By applying them, they’ll be able to reduce activation and take back control over their actions.
  • Work on their self-esteem and internal validation. A child with self-confidence is less vulnerable to outside judgment and criticism. As a result, they’ll be less fearful in evaluation situations and will be able to perform better.
  • Stresses the importance of practice and perseverance. Going into an oral presentation well prepared will be much less frightening. Likewise, the more they socialize, the more their social skills will improve and the more confident they’ll become.
  • Respond kindly and compassionately to your child’s performance. If you help them with homework or go over the lesson with them, don’t yell at them, don’t punish them, and don’t humiliate them; this will only increase their anxiety and reduce their performance.

Evaluation anxiety may require professional help

Feeling fear of being judged or evaluated is common and something you learn to manage over time. However, if a child exhibits this fear to a limiting degree, it’s important to seek professional help. Without guidance and treatment, this can lead to social anxiety, school phobia, or academic failure, and cause great harm. A child psychologist can help them understand and manage their emotions if the above guidelines aren’t sufficient.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.