When your child is taking exams, it can be a very stressful time for them. At a recent talk by a CAMHS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service) therapist I learnt that exam season is their busiest time of year, because so many young people feel overwhelmed by the pressure that they’re under.
I was sad to hear this from CAMHS, but I can quite believe it. It seems to me that our kids are under ever-increasing pressure from the moment that they start school. My son was pretty worried about the 11+ exam, age 10, because some of the other children in his class were taking it. Even though he wasn’t preparing for or taking the test, and I repeatedly explained to him that he wasn’t going anywhere near the 11+ exam, the other pupils’ stress and anxiety transmitted itself to him.
My kids’ mental health and happiness is much more important to me than exam results, and I always try to alleviate exam pressure as much as possible for them. When they had SATs at Primary school I told them that they were tests to assess the school and the teachers and not to assess children. I told my kids that they should do their best in their SATs, but not to worry about them at all. But once they get to GCSE level and above, the pressure on kids really increases, and that story doesn’t work any more.
Here are my tips for helping your teenagers to handle exam stress.
Tips from a parent: coping with exam stress
Cook them their favourite meals, get healthy, tasty snacks for them, try to gently persuade them to do some exercise, to go to bed on time, and to get enough sleep.
Tell them that the main thing is that they do their best and achieve the best results that they personally are capable of, for themselves, whatever those grades may be.
Explain to them that if they don’t pass an exam, or if they get a lower grade than predicted, it’s not the end of the world. They can always retake the exam if they need and want to. Or they can do something different.
If they need some encouragement to revise, praise them (in a low key way) for effort, revision, organisation, or anything positive that they’re doing to prepare for exams.
It doesn’t matter what results anyone else gets. Don’t compare your kids to others, and discourage them from doing so too.
Keep things in perspective
Remind them that there are key skills which are just as, or even more important in life than exam results – such as empathy, kindness, adaptability and a positive attitude. And when they’re grown-up, it probably won’t really matter what grade they get in GCSE Geography, or whatever other subject.
If you’re feeling stressed about your kids’ exams, this will probably make them feel stressed. So try to be calm and take time to relax so that you can be there for your child without adding to the pressure that they’re under.
Tips from a student: coping with exam stress
I asked my 19 year-old student daughter for her advice for parents on how to support their kids at exam time, and this is what she says:
- Get lots of snacks.
- Be lenient about things which you’d normally get annoyed about.
- Don’t ask questions about revision or exams.
- Basically just leave them to it and be nice.
NHS advice: exam stress
The NHS has some useful advice and links for helping your child with exam stress here.
Over to you
Do you have any tips to add? What’s worked well – or not – for you and your kids when it comes to exam stress?
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