Supporting Your Child with Exam Stress
We have come to the time of year when many children are preparing to face exams or tests at school. These exams or tests vary in their significance for your child’s future. For some, they will be the stepping stone to the next part of their educational journey, for others an assessment of their progress this academic year. Regardless of which category the exams or tests fall into, exam time is likely to be a pressured and overwhelming time for most children and their parents.
Stress and anxiety in young children is particularly heightened at this time of year as they deal with performance-related concerns related to their educational tests. These tests can often feel like tests of who they are. Their behaviour may suffer during a stress peak and it’s important to do what you can to respond from a place of calm. Invite them to join you in feeling calm, rather than you joining them in emotional chaos.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you support your child at this time:
Keep it in Perspective
Yes, of course exams are important. But everyone involved needs to remember it's not the end of the world if there’s a hiccup and things don’t go as well as expected. There is almost always another chance.
Help Manage Expectations
Working longer than is advisable for their age, or expecting grades significantly higher than their capabilities could well be detrimental to your child’s emotional and mental well-being. It’s important you guide your children appropriately in this area.
Encourage Good Work Habits
Primary school children may find it hard to sustain concentration for longer than 30 minutes without a break. It’s important not to schedule too many study sessions in one day – one or two would be the appropriate maximum for this age group on a weekend or school holiday day, but less if they are also managing homework. Otherwise your child will become stressed and it’s much harder for them to learn under pressure.
Remember the Building Blocks
Again, when it comes to the real basics, we can easily forget the building blocks for emotional wellbeing. Make sure that your child is getting enough good food, water and sleep!
Free time is Vital
It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s important to remember that primary school age children need plenty of free time - structured studying has to be balanced with plenty of unstructured free time. Relaxation and fun are vital. Getting outside to play and spending time relaxing with family and friends are super-important at this time.
A useful analogy to share with your children is that human beings are basically machines. We need fuel, and we also need to switch our engine off every now and again. Otherwise, we risk overheating! On any long-term journey in a machine, comfort breaks and fuel fill ups would be an accepted and necessary part of the journey. Humans are no different.
Make Time for You
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Your children need more from you when preparing for and going through exams or tests. To be able to give more you need to be able to have more fuel in the tank.
Connection is Important
Make sure you have family down time; perhaps, watching a movie one night with popcorn, or going for a family walk, or day out. Don't just save the treats for the exam results, as this reinforces to children that they have more value when they achieve more. Let them know that their wellbeing and enjoyment of life is as vital when they're striving for success, as well as when they're achieving it.
Vicky Bellman is a counsellor at Fegans, a Christian charity which counsels children and provides support for parents.
For more parenting advice on stress and mental health, visit www.fegans.org.uk/parent