Handling Exam Stress

Managing stress around exam time

It is perfectly normal for students to feel a bit nervous during the revision period and particularly in the run up to exams.  That adrenalin rush can even help motivate and focus students.  However too much panicking leads to under-performance from a child who may be perfectly capable and know their subject well.  In recent years, there is more and more written in the media about the state of children’s mental health and the stress they are under.  This  won’t be helped by the changes coming in for GCSE’s and A’ Levels.  Exam periods are also worrying for parents as you think is my child working enough or too much, are they looking after themselves, will they achieve good grades?

Common signs of stress

Parents should look out for children getting:

  • Headaches
  • Back aches
  • Stomach pains
  • Muscular tension
  • Not sleeping as well
  • Moody, irritable
  • Loss of appetite
  • Crying fits
  • Loss of temper
  • General disengagement and lack of energy

These symptons may describe most teenagers most of the time but look out if there is any noticeable increase or change in these behaviours!  It is also important to try and understand what is causing the stress.  Is it low motivation, lack of preparation, unrealistic expectations, competition from peers, pressure from parents or the school?   Encourage your children to set their own goals of what they want to achieve.

How can parents help their children manage stress?

Diet

  • Maintain a healthy, balanced diet
  • Drink lots of water
  • All food should be low in sugar, salt, fat, caffeine and refined carbs
  • Regular light meals

Sleep

  • Improves thinking and concentration
  • Around 9 hours a night

 Exercise

  • Boosts energy levels, clears the mind, alleviates stress
  • Timetable in physical activities, going outside

 Revision techniques

  • ‘Learning how to learn’ – revision needs to be active
  • Help teach child revision techniques e.g. mind maps, note taking, post it notes, practice papers. See Blog – learning how to learn
  • Help them construct revision timetable, broken down into small tasks
  • Help them prioritise and divide up their time spent on each subject

Talking

  • Set realistic expectations – can only try your hardest
  • Keep things in perspective
  • Be supportive and encouraging rather than policing them
  • Reflective listening/ emotion coaching
  • Be flexible around chores, normal routines and responsibilities

 Rewards

  • Not to be used as bribes but to encourage
  • Frequent little breaks/treats to look forward to during revision period
  • Down time to unwind
  • Descriptive praise

 Relaxation techniques

  • Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Breathe out more slowly than you breathe in. Locate any areas of tension and try to relax those muscles –imagine the tension disappearing. Relax each part of the body – from your feet to the head. As you focus on each part of your body, think of warmth, heaviness and relaxation.
  • Yoga
  • Mediation/mindfulness
  • Massage
  • EFT tapping
  • Visualisation helps with self-confidence. The best athletes use this

Further support for children’s mental health

A guide to ADHD and addiction

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