Supporting your children overcome examination stress
“Amma, I can’t do this anymore.” My teenage daughter Niharika screamed at me with her hands outstretched, full of papers. “Can’t do what?” I paid my partial attention to her while preparing the dinner.
“All this!” Papers in her hands flew all over the house as she held her forehead with both hands in extreme pain.
“There is no way I can do everything that my teachers are asking me to do!”
I stopped what I was doing and turned to look at her. I could see tears brimming in her eyes and could feel the stress she was going through. I had never seen her so upset. Listening to her patiently for the next two hours made me understand that she was overwhelmed with the different works at school which added on to the stress of the upcoming tenth standard board examination.
Her hands were shivering as she picked up each assignment she had to complete. It broke my heart to see her so stressed out. I want to help my daughter out. Though I know that I cannot do things for her, she has to handle, yet I want to know how to help her and support her out when she is stressed out like this. What should I do?
The above was a personal experience shared by one of the parents who came to me seeking advice on how to support her child during the most stressed times of examination.
From a very young age our children are encouraged to think that exams are very important and off late these exams have become quite competitive. In such situations, when exams become a stress, children tend to crumble and as parents we crumble along with them. Cases when children have attempted and even succeeded at suicide because they could not handle their stress well and did not get the needed support from parents are not unknown to us.
Avoiding stress, especially during the exam time seems to be impossible these days both for students and parents. In order for us to help our child cope the examination stress, we need to remain calm and ensure that the children are in a peaceful environment. Behavioral experts and psychologists opine that a little amount of stress is rather good for the child as it helps them in a way to stay focused; they learn to take studies seriously and therefore the probability of attaining good grades also increases considerably. Like they say only a strained string can result in music, loosened ones cannot. But if strings are too tight, there is a risk of breaking down. Similarly, when the stress levels go beyond the regular limit, it can be a cause of concern as it affects the wellbeing. Stress results in confusion, exhaustion and overwhelms the kid.
When it comes to exam time, here are some simple things any parent can do and say to their children:
- Remain calm and relaxed when talking with your child. Children can sense stress in their parents quite easily and do not need this extra burden on them during exam times. Many parents will remember their own feelings associated with exams and need to learn from it. Be supportive.
- Parents need to reduce their own stress levels associated with their children’s exam times, so focus on what works best for you in this regard. Perhaps go for a walk, play a sport or any activity that can release nervous tension and distract the mind.
- Depending on your child’s levels of organization, it might be helpful to go through their study plan, helping them to break up their work into manageable pieces and making sure they schedule enough social time for a healthy balance.
- Keep an eye out for changes in behavior. As parents we should look to see how our children are responding to, and managing, their stress levels. If there are any notable changes in how they behave then have a chat and ask them how you can help. This simple act may be enough in itself, as your child will feel listened to and supported.
- Ensure your child is eating normally. Often exam pressures mean your child eats snack foods and misses out on a nutritious and balanced diet.
- Children often want to study late and for longer hours (cramming) which eats into sleeping time. It is very important that children have a sufficient amount of sleep so they can function normally. Proper levels of sleep aid the memory process and make children less cranky.
- Keep it real. Exams like the Junior and Leaving cert are not the ‘be all and end all’ of your child’s life. We are more defined by how we act and respond to life events than by the score we achieve on a test. There are always options out there.
- Try not to make too many demands on your child at this time as any ensuing arguments will be entirely counterproductive. That said, children still have responsibilities they need to maintain.
- Most of all, make sure your child knows you are there to support them unconditionally regardless of the exam results.
Throughout the run up to the exams and after it is important to reassure your child that no matter what results they receive, that there are options. It may not be their first option but there are other ways, so be aware of the options should they not get their first choice. Give them as much encouragement and support during these times.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)