It's that time of the year again, when the nation's GCSE and A-level students begin to feel the pressure of the impending exams looming large on the horizon. And while it's true that a little pressure can help your kids to focus on their revision, when pressure becomes too much it can quickly turn into stress, and prolonged periods of stress can lead to physical and mental illness.
Harmful pressure could come from many things, including your child's comparison of themselves with others, the high goals they set themselves, their worry about disappointing you or other family members, and also from friends and teachers.
Here's some advice to help your youngsters through this difficult time.
Talk to them
It might sound simple, but if you are concerned that your child is being adversely affected by their exams, then talk to them. They might be able to tell you a way in which you can help them, perhaps by reducing their chores, or finding them a quieter place to study, or simply letting them know that you love them no matter what results they achieve.
Back off a bit
This is going to be a stressful time for the whole family. With your child on edge, they may be more prone to outbursts of anger and frustration. Bite your tongue, breathe deeply and understand that the stress of the situation is hijacking their own ability to behave rationally. Encourage other family members to do the same.
Feed the brain
The brain consumes about 25% of our calories when at rest, so it's important to keep it fed with healthy, nutritious food. If stress is putting your child off their meals, offer them healthy snacks and water to keep them hydrated and nourished. Even mild dehydration can impair cognitive functioning.
Encourage a calm mind
Suggest that your child takes five minutes at the beginning of each study period to sit quietly and focus on their breathing. Breathe deeply down into the tummy for a count of seven, then exhale a little slower for a count of 11. This will focus the mind on the present moment, not the fear of future exams. This tricks the mind into feeling calm, which is a much more productive state for learning to take place. Finish a revision session with the same technique.
Get some perspective
When they're caught up in the pressure of getting good results, it's hard for children to see the bigger picture. Failing their exams does not mean they will fail at life. No matter what the results, life will provide them with opportunities to succeed. Don't forget, Richard Branson dropped out of school at 16!
Look for underlying causes
Many children who experience high exam anxiety have low self-esteem, and experience negative self-talk that distracts their attention from revising. Encourage them daily, let them know that they are OK and that they are and always will be loved. Cognitive Hypnotherapy could help you to get to the root cause of a child's self-esteem issues and help them to see their worth and potential.