Exam season can be an anxious time, with many students under a high amount of pressure to perform well and get high grades. In fact, recent statistics from ChildLine show that 3,135 counselling sessions were given to school pupils about exam stress in 2016-2017, which is an 11% increase in the last two years. Teachers are even reporting they can clearly see the effect of stress on students and are finding exam stress among children from primary school age and upwards. That’s why it’s so important that parents are able to fully support their children, making sure they are calm, confident, prepared and motivated throughout this stressful period. Here’s the best ways to support your child.
Exam Stress Is On The Rise
Pupils in the UK are the most tested in Europe, with children being examined as young as age four all the way into their twenties. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) have even said that schools are in danger of turning into 'exam factories'.
The ChildLine Team Say:
"There can be a lot of pressure on young people to do well in exams, which can cause stress and anxiety. For older students trying to cope with an increased workload and struggling with revision are common issues. Worries may intensify as exams approach, with young people linking their results to their ability to realise future ambitions and career plans."
How Parents Can Help
Helping your child find the right balance of doing well and not feeling too much pressure can be tricky, however, there are things you can do to help without increasing their anxiety levels.
1. Identify Signs of Stress Early
It’s crucial parents are able to identify signs of stress in their children as soon as possible. Stress normally gets worse over time, however, these are the common signs to look out for:
- Disrupted sleeping
- Erratic / Poor eating
- Low mood / Self-esteem
- Upset stomach
- Anxiety / Panic Attacks
- Inflamed skin
- In more serious cases, self-harm, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts
If you are noticing any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk to your child first. Ask them what specifically is worrying them and why they feel so stressed. This way you can start to understand the best way forward and how you can help. If you are concerned for your child’s health, always book an appointment with your GP.
2. Stay Calm
It’s easy for parents to become just as stressed as their children about exams. However, children can sense when their parents are anxious and these feelings often get transmitted to them, which only adds to their stress levels. It’s important to stay as calm as possible and avoid placing unnecessary pressure on your kids.
3. Set Reasonable Goals
More than 50% of exam stress among young people is caused by the pressure piled on by parents. That’s why it's essential that you are both realistic about what can and can't be achieved. Just because a child is predicted a grade doesn’t mean they will achieve it. Instead, work together to set some reasonable grade targets that are reachable and won’t cause high stress levels. This way if they do even better, it’s a bonus!
4. Get Perspective Together
For young people it can sometimes feel like their whole future depends on what grades they achieve. If they don't get the results they need or expect, it will be helpful if they are able to put everything into perspective. Sit down together and go through the best and worst case scenario, looking at different options that are available to them. This may mean looking at a different school, university or course - however, if they know that whatever the outcome there’s a great future ahead, their stress levels should remain lower.
5. Create A Calm Study Environment
A great way you can support your children during the busy exam period is to make sure they have a calm environment at home to study in. It should be quiet, tidy and ideally have a window - studies have actually proven when students work in natural light it increases their cognitive ability!
6. Let them Study In Their Own Way
As parents, you should be encouraging your child to revise in the way that works best for them. Whether that’s re-writing out notes, using flash-cards, drawing posters or reading aloud - often flexibility and variation is the key to their revision success. It’s important to remember there isn’t a one size fits all way to study - everyone works in different ways. Understanding your child’s learning style and whether they’re a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner will give you some ideas on how to make revision easier! For more information about the learning styles, check out our helpful blog post.
7. Take Care Of Them
An area where your love will be appreciated is just by taking good care of your children during this stressful time. Make sure they’re taking regular breaks - ideally a 15-20 minute break every 60 to 90 minutes means their brain can absorb what they’ve been learning, and their concentration levels will remain high once they’re back studying. It’s also crucial to keep an eye on their diet and make sure they’re eating regularly. Research from Childline has shown almost half of young people say they have skipped meals due to exam anxiety. As the brain is a very hungry organ, it’s the first area of the body to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. That’s why your child's diet can make a great difference to how they’re able to learn and perform.
8. Talk Often
Probably one of the most important ways to support your child during exams is to talk to them often about how they're feeling, both in general and about exams. It’s a great opportunity for your kids to share any issues they’re having or just checking in with their progress. During your conversations, remember to praise them for how much revision they have already done and ask them what other ways you can support them in achieving their goals. Just knowing they have your full support will mean they’re likely to feel more confident and able to perform in their exams.