With mock exams or the real exams fast approaching, this can be a stressful time for both children and parents. I’ve compiled here a list of tips to help you support your children through this tricky time. The tips are not age-specific so feel free to adapt to what feels right for you.
Firstly, keep a look out for signs of stress in your child. Signs may be not sleeping well, having headaches or stomach aches, being irritable or moody, not going out with their friends, or being negative and feeling hopeless about the future. If your child seems to be worrying a lot and appears to be tense, here are a few things you can do to help.
Encourage your child to talk
This is not as easy as it sounds, I know. Choose a time and place where they may talk to you - in the car is a firm favourite. Remind your child that it’s totally normal to feel anxious - nervousness is a natural reaction to exams - but that nerves can be put into positive energy. The most important thing is for them to know they are not alone in how they are feeling. You could also encourage them to write down their worries on a piece of paper to get off their chest or to share with you or a trusted friend.
Give them a hand
Helping them create a positive space where they can work at home is a great starting point. Check what they need with regards resources - stationery, revision books, past papers. Offering to help them with their revision or by asking them questions may help them feel more prepared and confident.
Don’t put unnecessary pressure on your child or yourself
Children feel a lot of pressure from school so try not to add to this too much. Listen and support your child, rather than criticise them. Before each exam, be reassuring, positive and focus on making the home environment relaxing - nice dinner, tv together etc. Take time to talk to your child after each exam, asking them what went right rather than what didn’t go right. Expect some grumpiness, some frustration, some arguments - don’t take this personally.
Make sure they eat and sleep well
Studying throughout the night will actually cause more stress for your child as when you are tired your brain produces more cortisol, the stress hormone. Explain this to your child along with the fact that getting good sleep allows their brain to process all the information they’ve taken in during the daytime. Encourage them to wind down an hour before bed and aim for 8 hours sleep a night. Eating healthily will help your child have more energy and focus, whereas processed foods will slow them down. Treats are good but healthy food is better!
Too much stress can be counterproductive. Shift the focus off school and revision at times by talking about other things that your child likes doing. What they’d like to do at the weekend? Which friends they’d like to see? Make sure you’re finding time to relax too - exams will pass and it’s important that you look after yourself throughout this time.
Some children can sit and study for hours, while others have a shorter attention span. Either way, encourage them to take time out each day to move - studies show that the human brain needs to take a 15-20 min break after 90 minutes of studying in order to be productive. Exercise will also release endorphins, serotonin and dopamine - all helpful to improve mood and concentration.
Tamsin Denbigh runs hypnotherapy sessions at Somerset Sports Therapy Clinic in Wedmore on Fridays and online via Zoom on weekday evenings.