Whilst you know your child better than anyone else, there are a few basic guidelines we can all bear in mind as parents when exam time creeps up.
• Express interest and concern early on
Start the conversation with your child, demonstrate your compassion and your understanding as early in the exam process as possible so they know you're there for support if needed. Your child really wants your help, but you have to be gentle in offering it.
Use your understanding. Things have changed so much; you really don't know what it is like to be a child facing exams today. But what you do know what it is like to be a person under pressure, facing anxiety and stress. Use that understanding to reach your child, help them to understand their emotional reactions are normal, but can be controlled. Remember, anxiety and stress are about the future - what is important in this season is what needs to be done now.
Make a point of establishing this: break everything up into stuff that is needed now, and what is needed later. Not only will this reduce anxiety and stress, but if you take care of what has to be done now, the future will take of itself.
Remember, they are not your exams! Your child's job is to study for the exams, and then to write them: your job is to help. You can't make them study and you can't make them write exams on your behalf. The most effective way to help is to provide a supportive and understanding environment for the child - the demands on you will be different during the exam season, so you will need to be sensitive. Remember, engage your child early - start the dialogue, don't wait for a problem to emerge.
• Defuse conflict
You want your child to be studying right now, they are avoiding or refusing - the classic conflict. Do not engage, defuse. Change the subject, gently without being patronising, and start a conversation about something completely different, a favourite celebrity, a sport. Be patient, be genuine. A few minutes talking about something completely different and your child will know you are on their side: the conflict is defused, and the child is likely to be more relaxed, and more open to going to do what they really know they should be doing.
• Remember - there is life outside exams!
This may be the hardest of all. Encourage and support your child, help them to the performance they are capable of: but try to find a balance, acknowledging that life exists outside exams. Be sensitive, do not downplay the exams, but allow household life to go on.
The best way to start this is with yourself: acknowledge within yourself that your child's health and happiness, and that of others in the household, must continue even when exams loom.
Stress is natural, it is fine, but it becomes too large. Help give perspective by demonstrating that exams are not the entire world, and that all that is required of your child is they do their best in this moment: if they do that, the future will take care of itself. It is in establishing themselves in this moment that the child will get the stress emotion under control.
• Understand and train the mind
Studying, writing exams, dealing with emotions like anxiety and stress - these are all functions of the mind. Take some time to ensure that the mind is in its finest shape for these challenges: as little as ten minutes a day devoted to the mind will make a huge difference. If you don't have access to a dedicated mindfulness or mind training for school programme, try a daily simple concentration exercise: between the two of you, choose something you and your child can easily visualise - a simple image of a person or place will do - and then sit quietly together for ten minutes, both with your eyes shut, trying to keep your mind focussed only on the image. A fun twist is to count silently the number of times your mind wanders in the ten minutes, and compare. (Ten times in ten minutes actually shows great concentration.)