Exam time – how to help your kids
It’s that time of year again when household floors become covered in eggshells as parents tiptoe around their kids as the stress mounts towards exam time.
- How do you know if you are helping or making things worse?
- Are they doing too much work or not enough?
- Are you giving them the wrong message?
It’s difficult enough being a parent, but it’s even harder at exam time – especially as young people feel that the whole of the rest of their life is going to be affected by the exams they take now.
Is your child stressed?
Children and young people who experience stress may:
• worry a lot
• feel tense
• get lots of headaches and stomach pains
• not sleep well
• be irritable
• lose interest in food or eat more than normal
• not enjoy activities they previously enjoyed
• seem negative and low in their mood
• seem hopeless about the future
You may say that a lot of teenagers exhibit some of these symptoms, but if your child is experiencing a few of them then they could be stressed.
What can you do to help?
There are lots of things you can do to help them to reduce their stress levels at exam time – just don’t put them under scrutiny as that will increase the stress they are feeling.
- Make sure they have someone supportive they can talk to about their school work.
- Find out which teachers or tutors can give support and make sure you are aware of what is happening at the school or college.
- Don’t try to take over for your child – try to encourage them to ask for help themselves, if you take over you may make them feel more stressed or embarrassed.
- Try to involve your child as much as possible.
- Make sure your child eats well.
- Don’t stock unhealthy food in the house – caffeine, sugary and high-fat foods can really affect a young person’s mood and energy levels.
- Encourage them to take regular breaks to have a drink of water and a healthy snack like fruit.
- Ensure they eat regularly and don’t skip meals.
- Sleep is really important – most teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours sleep per night.
- Good sleep will improve thinking and concentration.
- It also consolidates what they have learned during the day.
- Allow half an hour or so for kids to wind down between studying, watching TV or using a computer and going to bed to help them get a good night’s sleep.
- Cramming all night before an exam is usually a bad idea. Sleep will benefit your child far more than a few hours of panicky last-minute study.
- Be flexible during exams.
- Is it really vital that their bedroom gets tidied or that they empty the dishwasher?
- Are you asking them to look after younger siblings?
- Stay calm when they get moody – especially if you would normally be really strict with them.
- Make sure they can study well.
- Has your child got a quiet comfortable space that they can use alone?
- Talk to them about how distracting mobile phones and computers can be and encourage them to think about when they chat to friends.
- Take an interest in what they are revising but don’t try to take over and set them a revision timetable or force them to do things to suit your agenda.
- If they want to listen to music and it helps then let them – don’t put your learning style onto them.
- Help to motivate them but don’t pile the pressure on – it’s not the end of the world if the exams don’t go to plan.
- Don’t tell them that you will be disappointed if they don’t pass – you will still love them no matter what happens and they need to know that.
- Talk about exam nerves.
- Remind your child that feeling anxious is normal. Nervousness is a natural reaction to exams. The key is to put these nerves to positive use.
- If anxiety seems to be getting in the way rather than helping, encourage your child to practise the sort of activities they will be doing on the day of the exam. This will help it feel less scary on the day.
- Encourage exercise during exams.
- Exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress.
- Encourage them to take time away from studying and spend time with other people doing physical activity.
- Make time for treats.
- Think through with your child some rewards for doing revision and getting through each exam.
- Rewards don’t need to be big or expensive. They can include simple things like making their favourite meal or watching TV.
- When the exams are over, help your child celebrate by organising an end-of-exams treat.
When should we get help?
If your child isn’t coping with the stress of exam time then it might be a good time to get some outside help. See if your child’s school has a counsellor or some group sessions that can help. Alternatively, you could speak to your GP or a private counselling agency.
If you live in the Gateshead or Newcastle area NECS can provide free of charge counselling to any young person aged 9-25. Give us a call on 0191 4408127 to arrange an appointment.
Teaching your children to breathe:
Finally, if you really want a practical way to help your child to reduce the level of stress, this can be done anywhere – even as they sit in the chair waiting for the exam to start. It will calm their heart rate and help them think about something other than the exam – and best of all, if you practice every day you get lots of benefit from it:
Help with breathing techniques – they really do work, try it:
- Stand, sit or lie down.
- Make yourself as comfortable as you can.
- If you’re lying down, place your arms a little bit away from your sides, with the palms up. Let your legs be straight, or bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor.
- If you’re sitting, place your arms on the chair arms.
- If you’re sitting or standing, place both feet flat on the ground. Whatever position you’re in, place your feet roughly hip-width apart.
- Let your breath flow as deep down into your belly as is comfortable, without forcing it.
- Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Breathe in gently and regularly.
- Some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five. You may not be able to reach five at first.
- Then, without pausing or holding your breath, let it flow out gently, counting from one to five again if you find this helpful.
- Keep doing this for three to five minutes.
Exam time can be stressful, but you can help.