Supporting Your Children Through Exams

As exam season approaches, tensions rise, stress reaches boiling point and a number of tears are likely to be shed. Exam time is widely recognised as stressful for a household and although some members are more affected than others, everyone is aware of what is happening.

For the student undergoing the exams, this will feel like the most important thing in the world. The stress and pressure they are likely to feel will have everyone around them walking on eggshells. Emotions will be running high for the young person as anxiety builds, along with accompanying irritability and grumpiness.

Whilst there may be previous family members who have already completed exams, to the current student, this is irrelevant. This exam experience is unique to the student and should be treated as such.

How involved should I be in my child’s study?

Every child is different. It is important for parents to gauge the individual’s need for involvement. Some students like to be left alone and work in isolation whilst others may need more company.

Constant parental involvement can sometimes feel like interference to a student. On the other hand, some find being left completely alone, a sign of lack of acknowledgement or interest. Both of these can heavily impact a young person’s stress levels and, in turn, their ability to concentrate.

It is best to just ask your child what they need, and then work out what you can do to support them effectively.

How do I help them study correctly?

Planning is one of the most important steps when thinking about exams. The more a student has planned, the more in control they will feel. Encourage your child to write up a study plan/time table so that they can see what they have to achieve and the time they have to achieve it.

Make sure your child has a comfortable and neat room to study in. People find it easier to visualise and conceptualise problems when their study space is tidy.

Ensure your child has regular breaks. Sometimes sitting still and staring at a book is less effective than several shorter study periods. It’s important for your child to relax and clear their mind before continuing.

Healthy snacks and daily exercise can help to lower stress. Binge eating on sugary and salty snacks when stressed is normal but unproductive. Often children feel more lethargic after snacking on these sorts of foods. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables can provide a much-needed energy boost.

Will bribery help my child to study harder?

Bribery is not always seen as a healthy motivator for young people preparing for their exams. Cash or gifts as rewards can often imply that they are the only worthwhile rewards and that the student is not trusted to work hard.

Small treats, by way of encouragement, is more advisable - for example, a slice of cake after a chunk of revision. It’s always nice to have something to look forward to at the end of the exam period such as a special dinner or a day trip with the family.

How do I support them and reduce anxiety?

Support is extremely important to an anxious student. During this time, family members need to tolerate the mood swings that a student under stress might display. One of the best things a parent can do is just listen. Many times, a student needs to have a good cry and get everything off their chest. Being calm and present is one of the most supportive things a parent can do!

Talking about the anxiety that the child is feeling is to be encouraged as it allows for open and honest communication. When a young person feels comfortable talking about their worries and fears, they are able to deal with it in a much healthier way than if they feel they have to keep quiet.

Avoid piling extra pressure and your own expectations onto your child. Sometimes it is not just students who need to be reminded that exams are not the be all and end all. Parents and students both need to remember that exams are only a gateway to the next stage, be it A-levels, university or work etc. Not doing so well is NOT the end of the world.

Exam periods are stressful and unfortunately, this is unavoidable. What we can avoid is traumatic experiences and unnecessary meltdowns blown out of proportion. Being there, and being proud of your child regardless of their results is undoubtedly the most supportive thing you can do to help them through their exams.