Exam time is stressful for everyone – children and parents alike! While a little bit of stress is normal, too much stress can be detrimental to your child’s results and wellbeing! Thankfully, as parents, you can play a key role in helping your child cope with exam stress. We asked Rachel Cohen, Psychologist at the Black Dog Institute, to share her 5 top tips for parents to help manage exam stress.
Here are 5 tips to help your child cope:
1. Check in with your own expectations
As parents, make sure you have realistic expectations of your children and avoid becoming another source of pressure. Sure, exams are important, but so is your child’s physical and emotional well-being. It can be tempting to think that you’re motivating your child by listing all the work that they have to do that day and reminding them of the consequences of not studying. However, they will be more successful in their study if they feel supported and nurtured than if they feel overwhelmed and pressured. As parents, you need to realise for yourselves (and remind your children) that whilst exams are important, they are not the ‘be-all and end-all’. Your child is much more than an exam result – make sure that this is the message you’re communicating to them.
2. Listen to your children
It’s important for your children to know that although you can’t sit their exams for them, you’re right there by their side emotionally. Really listening to your child about what’s worrying them will enable you to help them problem-solve where possible and offer emotional support, reminding them that no matter what happens you’re there to help them work things out. Remember that although you may be able to see the bigger picture, it can be hard for your child when they’re in the thick of it. Try validating their feelings first and then gently help them look at other ways of thinking about the situation and practical steps they may be able to take to alleviate some of the stress.
3. Develop a study routine
Having a study plan and getting into a routine is a sure-fire way to alleviate stress. When your child looks at all the work they have to do in its entirety, it can be very daunting and lead to procrastination, avoidance and anxiety. Try help them make a study plan by breaking down big tasks into smaller tasks and allocating time for them across the week. It’s important to do this collaboratively so that your child feels that what they’ve set out is achievable and relevant. It is essential to also schedule in regular breaks throughout the day to maximise productivity and assign rewards for achieving goals along the way. These can include enjoyable activities, exercise or socialising.
During allocated study times, encourage your child to remove distractions like social media, TV and phones. If relying on will-power alone is proving challenging, there are web-based programs (e.g. Cold Turkey, Self Control, Focus Me) that they can download to block access to social media or specific websites during certain hours. Similarly, if your child finds it difficult to stay motivated studying alone, suggest they study with friends or work at the library which can be a more motivating environment.
4. Check that their physical needs are being met
Whilst it may seem logical that the more hours your child spends studying the better, if this comes at the expense of getting enough sleep, exercise or eating healthily it could be sabotaging their learning. Make sure to check their basic physical needs (sleep, exercise, and diet) are being met.
5. Introduce relaxation strategies
Stress can lead to muscle tension, headaches and difficulty unwinding at the end of the day. You can help your child learn easy relaxation techniques that they can use during these stressful times of study as well as prior to and during exams. These include mindfulness meditations (readily available on free apps such as Headspace and Smiling Mind), slow breathing techniques, visualisation exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Reach out for help
When stress levels get too high and are left unmanaged, there can be serious health consequences, for example anxiety and depression. It’s important as parents to be aware of the signs that may indicate your child may be struggling to cope with stress and reach out for further support if necessary.
Rachel Cohen is a Psychologist at the Black Dog Institute and is completing her PHD on the psychological effects of social media use.