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Helping Your Teenager Stay Afloat When It Comes to Exam Stress

19/05/2016 12:15 | Updated 19 May 2016

Exam period is a tough time for children and teenagers, and the stress this can bring often extends to parents and wider families, who naturally bear the weight of overwhelming pressure placed on their loved ones.

Parents can use these techniques to help their children stay calm, rational and make sure they get the most out of the weeks and months leading up to exam time.

Every child goes through a stressful situation at some point during their childhood or teenage years. This can be everything from peer pressure, arguments with family and friends, bullying and other pressures at school and sixth-form.

Exam pressure can potentially affect all children, and doesn't necessarily subside after exams are complete. Once the hard part's over, students face the tormenting wait for results. This is especially difficult for children who struggle in exams and suspect that these important results might not be the best. On the opposite side of the spectrum, top-performing students feel equal amounts of pressure as teachers and parents expect them to achieve high grades. Especially in year 11, GCSE results have the power to dictate university choices - increasing the burden of exams and coursework even more.

Wellbeing tips for parents to reduce exam tension

  1. Make sure that your child knows that overpowering emotions and feelings such as anxiety, fear, dejection and irritation are all temporary, and that learning to control them is important.

  • Children and teenagers can have little faith in their own ability and spend their time worrying that exam failure is imminent. Sit down together and challenge any unreasonable thoughts they have about their work or talent. Remind them about times when they've produced some really impressive work.
  • Help your child make a revision plan, and initiate a discussion about future career plans depending on the outcome of exam results. This will promote their thinking around what options they have ahead of them.
  • Make sure they know that you'll be there for them unconditionally.
  • Boost their confidence and encourage them to discuss their feelings.
  • Give your child examples of times when you've been under a lot of stress, and how you dealt with the situation. This will reassure them that everyone experiences similar situations and feelings.
  • Don't force or pressure your child to revise, and promote a healthy balance of down time and revision.
  • If they need to discuss their exam stress confidentially, talk to them about ChildLine and the Samaritans who are there to support.
  • Ensure your child doesn't expose themselves to computer/tablet/phone screens constantly, as this can hinder the body when it comes to switching off and going to sleep.
  • Get them involved in exercise (at least 20 minutes per day). Fresh air will help and exercise will take their mind off revision/exam stress.
  • Try to divert their focus away from thinking about exams. Try some of the following techniques:
    • Suggest some form of entertainment, whether it's a trip to the movies, watching something online or going for a walk together.
    • Encourage your child to block out negative thoughts and switch off. Popular relaxation techniques such as yoga, pilates or meditation can be a huge help when it comes to distancing yourself from negative thoughts and feelings of worry.
    • Ask your child to picture a relaxing memory or a 'safe place', and ask them to describe each detail, including sounds, scents, lights, textures, dialogues and emotions. This will open up conversation and lead their thoughts elsewhere.
    Extra support

    If your child suffers from intense emotions, I recommend a technique away from the norm where your child holds some ice in their hands tightly. The idea behind this is that when the ice melts away, the tension goes with it. This won't do any damage to their hands, and will simply feel like a burning feeling.

    If their anxiety still seems quite severe and doesn't improve after trying this technique and some of the other tips listed, seek advice from your GP. They can authorise a referral to a child psychiatrist, which can have great benefit in both the short and long term. Medical professionals can also provide support when it comes to explaining the situation to schools, and liaising with them about exam schedules and requirements.

    If your child still needs additional support, it's worth looking into Child and Adolescent Mental Health NHS Services (CAMHS).

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