How to spell obsession

• MY 12-year-old son is very good at spelling.

In the weekly spelling tests in class he has never spelled a word incorrectly since he started school. This obviously deserves praise, but he is now obsessive about it. He studies the weekly list of words for hours and can't sleep before a test, worrying that he might get one wrong. I've asked him if he is in competition with anyone else, but he says he is just doing it for himself. I also had a word with his teacher, who merely commented that it is good for a child to be motivated, but I think this level of obsession is making him unhappy.

S Dearbon, Aberdeen

• You say your son studies the weekly list of words for hours and I am presuming that you mean the night before, or at most, two nights before the test. This level of study for a weekly test certainly strikes me as excessive, especially considering the level of anxiety he is exhibiting. You mention that he cannot sleep the night before a test and this is hardly surprising if hours are being spent attempting to memorise a list of words. He may feel that if he does not get full marks this will somehow have a detrimental effect upon his progress, his teacher's viewpoint, and possibly his parents' view of his ability.

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In order for you to consider a course of action it is important to consider the following:

1. Does your son show an increased level of anxiety when he has to sit other tests in school or in other situations, either at home or elsewhere?

2. Is he happy at school in general? Maybe the sense of anxiety he is experiencing manifests itself around the time of the test but is not directly related to the test. It could be, for example, another event in the school, class, or maybe even at home.

Another point is about the usefulness of having a spelling test in school at all. After all what do the results show? Usually we find out what we already know - good spellers are good at spelling. Does your son have to sit these types of test? Is it helping his progress in school? Is it helping other children? I am sure that the head teacher of the school would be happy to discuss the usefulness or otherwise of weekly spelling tests.

In your question you mention that you have spoken with your son about why he is becoming worried about tests. This is a useful approach and I would also consider speaking with your son around the area of whether he is happy at school or elsewhere. He may welcome the opportunity to discuss different aspects of his life with you.

Reassuring your son that you will still love and support him no matter what his results in school may also be worth considering. If these issues are not resolved, it may be useful to discuss your concerns with the school's educational psychologist.

• Chris Boyle is a chartered educational psychologist working for South Lanarkshire Council and a Teaching Fellow in the School of Education, Social Work and Community Education at the University of Dundee.

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