If you’re the parent of a child in Sixth Form or College, you may have…
8 tips to support your child during exam season
It goes without saying that exam season can be a stressful and challenging time for students. As a parent, it’s natural to want your child to perform to their full potential. Supporting your child without adding to the pressure they’re already feeling can be a balancing act. This month’s blog post outlines eight things you can do to minimise stress, optimise wellbeing, and help your child to succeed during exam season.
1. Engage in conversation
Encourage your child to talk openly about how they’re feeling and to share any worries or concerns. Actively listen and try to avoid criticism. Reassure them that feeling anxious or nervous is completely normal. Rather than telling your child that “everything will be fine”, work with them to come up with strategies to help cope with feelings of anxiety. For example, practise simple breathing techniques together, which they might find useful when entering the exam hall. If your child is feeling anxious or upset, it will undoubtedly be stressful for you too, but remember to stay positive and try not to empower their anxieties.
After each exam, you could offer to chat about how it went. Be encouraging about positive aspects of the exam, rather than dwelling on the parts they found challenging. Then, shift their focus and energy towards preparing for the next exam.
2. Keep perspective
Yes, exams are an important part of your child’s education, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all. High grades aren’t the only route to a successful career. Qualities such as self-confidence, resilience, and having a positive attitude are just as crucial for success in life. Remind your child that the most important thing is that they try their best, and don’t forget to tell them how proud you are of their hard work and perseverance!
3. Encourage a healthy diet
Exam stress can lead to unhealthy eating habits, whether it be bingeing on sugary food and drink, or under-eating and skipping meals. It’s not always easy, but try to keep an eye on what your child is eating, and encourage them to choose healthier options. Prepare them a nutritious breakfast or healthy packed lunch prior to exams − the last thing they’ll need is a rumbling stomach in a quiet exam hall! You could also involve them in the weekly food shop and let them pick some healthy snacks.
4. Keep fit
Physical activity, such as cycling, swimming, or even walking the dog, has proven benefits for academic performance. It can boost energy levels, release tension, and clear the mind. It’s also a great way to have fun with your child. Why not take up a new hobby, such as yoga, jogging, or following some YouTube dance workouts!
5. Get an early night
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule (with at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night) is crucial if your child is to perform their best in the build up to, and on, exam days. Exam season is a marathon, not a sprint. Staying up late to cram for one exam may leave your child feeling exhausted and on edge for the next few days. Research shows that sleep impacts memory, concentration, and problem-solving skills. An early night will help them feel more relaxed, refreshed, and ready to focus on the task in hand.
If your child is struggling to settle down and go to sleep, encourage them to try out one or more of the following strategies before bed:
- Reduce screen time
- Take a shower or run a bubble bath
- Listen to a relaxing playlist, podcast, or audiobook
- Swap caffeine for herbal tea in the late afternoon and evening
- Write in a diary or journal
6. Create a safe study space
Set up a designated study area in your home where your child can revise without any disruption from noisy siblings (or the dog!). If there isn’t enough space for a desk in their bedroom, agree on the use of a shared space at set times for study. For example, make the dining table a ‘study zone’ from 18:00 to 19:30 each day. This is especially important if your child is on study leave. In busy households, finding a workspace free from disruption or distraction can be tricky. If this is the case, you may want to consider taking your child to the local library. Many have desks available for study, plus power sockets and internet access. Its guaranteed calm space can reduce anxiety and help with concentration.
7. Ensure they take breaks
Whilst it’s important that your child is devoting sufficient time to revision, it’s arguably more important that they set aside enough time for rest and relaxation. Little rewards, such as watching an episode of their favourite Netflix series or preparing their favourite snack, can help with motivation and mood. It could also be beneficial to plan an end-of-exams activity or treat to give them something to look forward to.
8. Don’t stress out
Young people tend to pick up on the behaviours modelled by those around them. A parent who is constantly stressed and fearful will inadvertently transmit such negative behaviours to their child. Even if you’re feeling the pressure, try to maintain a calm, positive attitude around them − in other words, tear your hair out once they’ve gone to bed − and implement practical strategies to manage your stress.
It’s common for young people to experience heightened anxiety and stress around exam season. However, if you’re concerned that your child’s anxiety is having a detrimental impact on their day-to-day life, reach out to their school or your GP for additional advice and support.
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