Parenting 101: Exams

Parenting 101: Exams

New figures from the NSPCC have revealed that Childline carried out 2,795 counselling sessions on exam stress in 2018/19 – with around a third taking place in April and May. Children as young as seven years-old are now exposed to high-stress levels and anxiety associated with exams. We spoke to Wendy Robinson, Service Head at Childline on how to recognise the signs of stress and how best to manage your child during this challenging time…

Childline is urging all young people to speak out if they are stressed about their exams, especially boys, as figures reveal they are five times less likely than girls to talk to counsellors about the pressure they are under. The prospect of taking exams can have an adverse effect on your child’s mental health. Anna Williamson, Childline counsellor and writer of teen book, How Not to Lose It says, “my advice to parents would be to never say ‘it wasn’t like this in my day’- children won’t care and it isn’t about you. Also never compare siblings. What you can do is ask if they need anything, say you are proud of them and offer an end-of-exams celebration to help them visualise it being over.”

5 pointers for you to practice…

Recognise your child is stressed

Children can show their stressed through many different types of behaviour. From crying easily, developing mystery ‘illnesses’, trouble falling asleep, bed wetting, irritability, feeling negative, eating too much or too little, the list goes on.

Don’t compare your children to their friends

It’s all too easy to get frustrated when your child is reluctant to pick up a revision book when his peers seem to have their heads down in their studies but avoid comparing your child to others. All children are different. Competing with his/her friends admittedly can keep your child motivated but it can also make them feel like they can’t keep up or failing before they’ve even begun. If you child is active on social media this makes things harder to manage as they can see what their friends are up to, however encouraging your child to get organised and keep a list of what they’re achieving will ensure their spirits aren’t low. This leads on to…

Avoid nagging your child

If your child is sitting exams, Lynda advises cutting them some slack to concentrate on revising. “Don’t nag about chores – they’ve got enough on their plate." If they are moody or snappy it may be a symptom of the pressure that they’re under. 

Think positively- them and you

When you feel anxious, you start questioning your ability to do things. It is difficult but encourage your child to replace these feelings with positive thoughts such as: ‘this is just anxiety, it can’t harm me’ and, ‘relax, concentrate - it's going to be okay’. If your child feels anxious and panicky, encourage them to breathe through their nose, rather than the mouth, which will have an instant calming effect.  Instrumental background music can help them chill out while studying – though avoid songs with lyrics, which can be distracting.

Celebrate the end

Offer an end-of-exams celebration with either the family or friends, this will help your child visualise exams being over.

6 pointers for your child to practice…

Encourage your child to be open and honest

Talking is free therapy. Your child may feel pressurised by teachers and yourself to achieve top results. Often you can put pressure on your child without even realising it. It helps to encourage your child to talk about how it makes them feel. Talking about things can help you to think about other ways that you can offer support in the future too.

Or tell them to write down their worries

Getting your child to note down what’s worrying them, even if they don’t intend to share it with you, is a proven way to take some weight off their shoulders. Often seeing something in black and white takes some of the pressure off, even slightly.

Make healthy meals (and snacks)

It’s all too easy to reach for a bag of Maltesers instead of an apple, especially when you’re feeling anxious, but ensuring your child eats regularly and has healthy balanced meals throughout the day will focus your child’s mind, give him/her energy and avoid your child snacking on sugary-laden snacks that will ultimately give their body a dive.

Take a break outdoors

Get your child to have a kick around outdoors or go to your local park or playground to clear his/her mind and give them a boost of energy. The wonders of being in the great outdoors will benefit your child more than a time-out in front of a screen.

Sleep is crucial

It’s hard to get your children to listen to you at the best of times, but it’s important that your child understands you have their best intentions at heart when you send them to bed at a sensible hour. Putting kids to bed is often a painful and monotonous struggle, but a good night’s sleep is crucial for coping with stress.

And finally…

Remind your child – and yourself, that exams don't last forever.

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