How to help your child avoid exam stress

Exam Stress

Growing the muscle to cope with exam stress can be one of the biggest challenges that your child will face but they are not alone and there is a lot that you can do as a parent or carer to help them!

Exam stress or even stress alone is a word that is banded around a lot nowadays but essentially it is a survival mechanism that heightens the body to dangers by raising heart rate, releasing glucose to give muscles energy and setting the person in fight/flight mode ready to deal with the challenge ahead.  Critically the body has been set to use this system to manage short periods of stress.  Now in the 21st Century, the problem arises because we all stress for much more over longer period of time.  The brain and body then stays on red alert for much longer which ultimately makes us less able to think clearly, learn or even remember!  As such then stress is not a helpful mechanism to embrace a revision period or even the exam itself.  By taking the time out to understand about stress, we are much better placed to deal with it!

Stress then needs recognising early on.  The signs of stress can be seen as follows:

Any of these, and other signs that deviate from normal, can be a sign that the pressure your child is starting to feel is overwhelming them.  The RESETPARENTING solution for this is simple and easy to follow.

TESTS is the five small steps that work together to help you or your child through their exams in a healthy and stress-free manner that then releases maximum potential.

  • T = Tucker (the old Australian word for food).  Eating a balanced diet seems sensible but food and health can be directly related in stress terms.  Certain foods can cause a stress response such as those that have high caffeine content, high sugar content or even high fat.  The first (caffeine) directly stimulates the adrenal gland to produce adrenaline.  Adrenaline is released in the body at times of stress and as such an overdose of caffeine (that includes chocolate) while studying and revising will only serve to up the levels of this in the body and thus be counterproductive.  The other two (high sugar and high fat) indirectly correlate to stress levels but still contribute to increased stress levels overall!  For instance a sugar rush will cause blood sugar levels to rise sharply but then they come crashing down.  Even artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame are effectively neurotoxins!  Plenty of healthy options to maintain the equilibrium should therefore be encouraged as well as remembering to drink water to hydrate the brain.
  • E = ExerciseRemember in fight/flight terminology the body is set, as a result of stress, to leap into action to avoid trouble!  Exercise is therefore a natural and healthy response to helping the body overcome stressful situations.  It stabilises the body’s physiology by clearing the mind, boosting appropriate energy levels and alleviating stress.  At times of increased stress it is therefore important to ensure that we get plenty of exercise to let out energy!
  • S = Sleep.  On average teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.  Critically important though is to allow for a wind-down time before they hit the hay in a relaxed environment.  Sleep hygiene can play a crucial role in ensuring that sleep habits become as relaxing as possible in the build-up to exams to optimise on the renewal that a good night’s sleep brings.
  • T = Time Out.  Time out for a break and to socialize needs to be scheduled into any revision or study plan.  Creating a varied and stimulating environment will ensure that any boredom is alleviated.  This is all about managing a balance but critically ensure that periods of Time Out are planned to ensure that it will be as easy to get stuck back into mode of studying as it will be to take Time Out.
  • S = Support.  This is the vital area for parental or carer involvement.  Support can come from a multiple disciplinary approach of remaining flexible to helping keep everything in perspective, to helping your child organise themselves.  Help your child think ahead and be prepared helps tremendously.  From helping them to think about and plan a revision schedule incorporating all the TEST features to asking them if they know what the exams will ask for and what expectations are bouncing around to assisting them with the basic preparations of making sure everything is in place for the correct day and correct time.  Avoiding last minute chaos is a must to keeping those nerves quelled!  At the end of the day remember to do your LAPS as a parent:- Listen, Avoid Criticism, Be Positive and Support!

The exam period, the run up to and the actual exams can be nerve racking but by putting the TESTS into action certainly helps keep this period as stress free as possible.  Taking the time to BREATHE slowly, to focus on exactly what your child wants to achieve and helping them set themselves realistic goal posts is key.   Helping them to know and accept what makes them them is essential!

Help your Child to GROW the muscle they need to move forward.

If they have achievable Goals, understand the Reality of where they are in achieving the goal (what they’ve done so far and what they need to do), appreciate the Options available to them and have a clear Way forward mapped out, then they will be able to aspire to the end result and motivate themselves.

It is a well-known fact that children that have intrinsic centres of motivation are much more likely to stay focussed because they are interested in the area they are studying or want to study and as such own the control centres that propel them forwards.  Those who are externally motivated to achieve rewards such a financial carrots or even praise may only work towards these!

* * * * * *

None of this is exhaustive!  The lists of how you can help your child could go on and on, but critically at the end of the day remember that a PASS is great but a FAIL never needs to be the end of the world just a platform to the next success, albeit in a tweaked time-frame.

exam stress

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