It’s been described by many as one of the most stressful times of parenting… Exams!

The intensification of pressure and acute stress is causing ‘exam meltdown’ in households across the country judging by the number of Parents contacting us on a daily basis about their ‘Exam-Stressed’ children. This can have such an impact on the whole family it can feel like walking on eggshells all the time, living on the edge wondering when the next ‘examquake’ is going to happen or the cries of “you don’t understand” echo from the bedrooms and living rooms across the nation.

Triggering the feelings of wanting to escape to your ‘man-cave’ or lose yourself in the footie!

Firstly, what’s needed is the understanding that the stress your child or teenager is feeling is a multi-layered roller-coaster of emotions generated by growing up coupled with massive amounts of life-pressure coming from the ever-demanding Schooling system, much more than in previous generations.
Here’s how to recognise stress triggers well before they turn into emotional explosions and gain strength, clarity and focus from the process, rather than developing an unhealthy mental-habit of dreading any tests or exams in the future (for them and you).

It’s also important to put ‘exam stress’ into context because stress itself is not the demon many perceive it is. Certain levels of stress and pressure can be beneficial, even helpful when channelled. It’s when the body and the mind is under extreme stress for longer than a healthy level, the negative side-effects are felt.

This overwhelming, unhelpful stress tightens the brain’s ability to think clearly, shutting-off creative flow and concentration. It creates a term I call ‘brain-fog’ (not to be confused with ‘brain freeze’!).

It’s the point where your child feels their head is so congested and overloaded it might just suddenly explode! Creating physiological and psychological shutdown.

It’s not the amount of revision (although this is crucial and required of course), or even last-minute cramming that will help them retrieve the information when required. It’s the ability to relax the mind and allow thoughts to flow for clear thinking and resourceful action, learning and retention.

So here are my top tips to help your child (and you) through ‘exam season’:

  • Set a clear study time and stick to it. Set a timer for 30 minutes at a time and plan something fun or relaxing straight after.
  • Prepare a clear study area away from distractions to help maintain focus.
  • Get all the resources needed within easy reach for that subject/revision.
  • Create a checklist of what needs to be studied or revised and work through… step by step.
  • Before starting, they take a few deeper breaths into the belly, feel the seat underneath them, have their feet on the floor and concentrate on them for a moment, helping them feel grounded and calm.
  • Do they need your help? Often a child or teen benefits from having you sit with them for reassurance and to keep focused if they’re easily distracted and feel unsettled.
  • They make a commitment for the next x amount of time they’re focusing in on their revision only (switch off mobile, games, TV, etc)
  • If feelings of stress, pressure or overwhelm creep in, it means they’ve travelled in time! They’re either worrying about past results or overwhelmed by the perceived future such as how are they going to revise for ‘everything’. This is all normal thoughts because our mind often wanders. And now’s the time for them to take control of it, they simply take attention to their feet, feel them grounded and solid on the floor and take a few deeper breaths into the belly until the mind and feelings have settled.
  • Then continue until the scheduled study time has ended.
  • To finish, slowly and mindfully pack their materials away focusing on each piece of paper or book, using this process to let go of any stress creeping in, use belly breathing to let them go and celebrate what’s been achieved in that study time.
  • Choose something enjoyable and relaxing to do to finish.

Progress is a process, repeat each study time and they’ll be focused, prepared and in control as the exams arrive.

As parents you naturally feel certain stresses and emotions during this time too. Being part of this preparation process with your child can benefit you both.

They feel understood, supported and more open with you about their studies and feelings, creating a more harmonious home!

Author: Annette Du Bois

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