If your teenager experiences exam stress, one of the best things you can do as a parent or carer is to try to be as supportive and tolerant as possible. Reassure them that there are more important things in life and that this is only part of the story. Let your child know you will help them no matter what and, although naturally you want them to do well, you will not think any less of them if these particular exams don’t work out.
Study and learning habits
Helping your child to establish effective study and learning habits can help to reduce stress.
- Is there an uncluttered table where they can work? Help them to find somewhere which is likely to be undisturbed.
- Encourage your child to find out exactly what the test involves – are there past test papers they can look at to help them understand what to expect?
- Encourage your child to ask for help or ask their teacher for clarity if they are unsure of something or if they feel confused.
- Help them to make ‘mind maps’ to collect ideas and summarise thoughts – use bright colours to help remember important links.
- Help them to plan their study schedule early on so that they have sufficient time to study. It can be helpful to develop a clear, realistic plan of what they want to cover in each study session. Can they break it down into small chunks?
- Remind your child to take a short rest and move around in between each part of their study.
- Offer help sometimes. It can be useful having someone to listen or practise with.
Practical ideas to help your child cope with exam stress
- Encourage your child to stick to a routine of going to bed at a reasonable time, eating regularly and making time to have fun and exercise.
- Help them to cut back on coffee or any other stimulants they may be using, as these can increase agitation. Encourage them to drink lots of water instead.
- Encourage them to take time out when they eat, rather than carrying on with study.
- Encourage them to eat fresh fruit, veggies, cereals, grains, nuts and protein – they are all good for the brain and blood sugar levels.
- Encourage them to eat when they get hungry. This keeps blood sugar and hydration levels steady.
- Avoid junk food if possible because it will bring a sudden sugar high and then fall away quickly leaving a person feeling tired.
- Try not to nag as they may be feeling a lot of pressure already. It helps to stay calm and offer support – perhaps offer a cup of tea occasionally or record their favourite TV program to watch later.
Relaxation ideas to help your child cope with exam stress
- Always encourage your child to relax before they go to bed after concentrating for long periods of time. Activities such as reading a book or chatting to a friend may help them unwind and sleep better.
- Encourage them to go out for a walk, run or to do some other exercise that they enjoy.
- Relaxation techniques can be very effective if you see your child’s anxiety rising. For example, put on some gentle music, get them to lie down, close their eyes and breathe deeply while visualising a calming scene such as a deserted beach.
- Encourage your child to visualise success – this can really help with self-confidence.
Ideas for exam day
Talk about these ideas before exam day so as not to add to anxiety levels.
Suggest to your child that they:
- organise and pack everything that they need to take with them into the exam, the night before
- keep away from people who may agitate them before the test or may say unhelpful, anxiety-provoking comments
- take time to slow their breathing and relax when they first sit down
- read through the paper, underlining key words and instructions. Work out how long they have for each question or section
- watch out for the wording of the questions – make sure that they understand and address what the question is really asking
- answer the questions they find easiest first, then as they relax more move onto the other ones (by then their mind has relaxed and they are likely to find the work easier)
- re-read answers if possible and make any changes that are necessary – cross out notes, correct spelling, check workings.