We know that exams can be a stressful part of school life for children and, inevitably, this time in their school life will also often impact you as their parents or carers.
Here are a few tips to help you spot if your child is getting stressed, as well as ways to support your child when exam time arrives.
How can I tell if my child is stressed about exams?
It’s important to know that your child might be feeling very overwhelmed at this time. If they are, that is totally normal and is to be expected.
Signs that your child is stressed
You know your child best, so look out for signs of stress:
- Seeming overwhelmed or distracted
- Less tolerant with family
- Low mood
- Worried they will fail exams
- Less sociable
- Reduced appetite
- Drinking energy drinks
Having you there to talk to can be really beneficial. Additionally, support from a tutor or a revision buddy can help young people openly discuss their thoughts, which also keeps things in perspective.
Signs that your child might be struggling
- Suffering from headaches and stomach pains or sickness
- Impacted sleep or not being able to fall asleep
Tips for supporting your child during exams
Get help from the school
Encourage your child to talk to a member of school staff who they feel will be supportive. If you believe that your child is not coping very well, it may also be helpful for you to arrange a meeting with the school to talk through support strategies.
Sleep is vital
Did you know that a good night’s sleep improves cognitive creativity, concentration, and resilience? A situation to try and avoid is your child staying up until the early hours, cramming in lots of last-minute revision.
Make sure there is a creative space
Make sure your child has somewhere quiet, comfortable and distraction-free to revise.
Help create a structured revision plan
Help your child come up with a revision schedule, splitting their time into realistic, manageable chunks – this will help reduce their worry and increase their confidence as they will feel more in control. If there are subjects your child finds difficult, encourage them to make sure their revision plan targets these more complex subjects.
Think about learning preferences
How does your child learn best? Consider requesting past exam papers from your child's school for practice. See if your child would like to work in silence, mirroring exam conditions. Avoid strictly monitoring and over-policing their revision.
Becoming a quiz host is a great way to support learning. You could create question cards or quizzes, and if your child‘s preference is visual learning, you could suggest watching online revision videos. You could also offer support by listening to a recap or testing them on what they have learned if they find this helpful.
Help them deal with exam worries
It's important to remind your child that it's completely normal to feel overwhelmed and nervous during this time. Reassure them that, as parents and carers, we also often face situations that make us feel anxious and nervous. Sharing practical strategies is a great way to help your child feel prepared and more in control.
Understand if your child has other worries about the exam process. They may find talking about it awkward, so encourage them to write a list or draw pictures. For example, it could be something you’d not even considered, like the exam environment, that is causing the most worry, so viewing the exam room beforehand could really help. Or perhaps they are worried about what would happen if their bus broke down on their way to their exam - planning to take your child to school on exam days will help relieve worry.
Help them take breaks
Encourage your child to take regular breaks - these could be planned breaks, or whenever they need to. Take 10 minutes or 20 minutes to disconnect from exam mode, such as having a cup of tea or face-timing a friend.
Encourage exercise and getting outdoors
Exercise is a great way to boost energy levels, clear the mind and reduce stress. Venturing outside provides children with a fun and sometimes much needed break - walking, cycling, playing catch, or a sport are all super effective. Also, activities that involve friends and family can be particularly helpful. Organising to have friends over is a good way to make this period not feel like it's all about revision.
Provide time and make sure you’re together in the morning. Have breakfast together, and be reassuring and positive. It’s absolutely normal to want your child to do well, but at the same time, it is very important that you avoid heaping on more pressure and that you are the person providing a sense of perspective.
Ask small questions
Encourage your child to give feedback on how they feel about the exam/s. Be mindful of asking BIG questions. What do we mean by BIG? For example, “How did it go?” This can be a very overwhelming question for a young person to process – they are basically being asked to tell you about their entire day. There’s a lot to consider. So, how you frame your questions is important - try asking a small question that is less intimidating and easier to manage with a reply. For example, "how did you feel walking into the exam hall? What part went really well in the first exam?" This means they don’t focus so much on what they found hard.
We can also positively flip the question. For example: "on reflection, what do you now know, that you didn’t yesterday? What can you add to your exam toolkit?"
Think about little treats for revising and for getting through each exam. This can include simple things like making their favourite meal or watching TV. Including these little treats after each exam can help them feel positive, motivated, and less worried. It also allows another opportunity to check-in and gauge how they are dealing with it all.
Celebrate when it’s over!
When all the exams are over, help your child to celebrate by organising an end-of-exams celebration. Reflect on everything they have achieved and how they successfully overcame every hurdle.