Struggling With Your Kids (or Your Own!) Exam Stress? Our 10 Tips Have Got You Covered
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Exam time is upon many of us, and we know with that tensions tend to run high, and anxiety often higher. In this ever-competitive world, managing our own expectations, goals, and hopes, can be a challenge. It can be good to put things in perspective, and equally good to find healthy ways to help manage the pressures that face you or your children. These pressures are increasing every day, because of the intense importance our culture places on exams and achievement. This importance needs to be challenged, but equally it is beneficial for kids to understand that a degree of stress is normal, and that they can learn to manage it effectively and avoid damaging their self-esteem and health. If we don’t teach our kids (and ourselves) how to manage stress, the result is usually burnout, self-medication with food or substances in the long term, or other short-term harmful strategies. They need help learning how to regulate themselves and find balance.
Whether they (or perhaps you) are in primary school, high school, or university, they are likely plagued by thoughts of whether they could have prepared better, whether they have enough time left, and just general feelings of self-doubt. Many will feel their future, the love and admiration of their parents, and their own personal self-worth is on the line. The overwhelm might cause them to be irritable, sleepless, to procrastinate, to avoid, or to overwork themselves to the point that they aren’t even absorbing anything anymore. So here’s what we suggest!
1. Manage Expectations
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It is really important as the parent to manage your own expectations, so you can help them manage theirs. If you notice changes in their behavior that are likely stress-related, ask them if they would like to chat and if there is any way you can help. Be positive, understand this is difficult for them, and don’t become another source of pressure. Even if they don’t ask for anything from you, your question and the way you listen to them will make them feel supported. Remember what it was once like for you.
1. Support Breaks
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You know what helps both your own stress and your kids? Taking breaks. Every 60-90 min., watching a bit of a show, going for a walk, or doing any kind of activity that can release some tension and take their mind off things is helpful, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, running, or a team sport. They all help release endorphins and reduce tension. Even a bit of social time is great. It’s actually an effective way to re-energize and maintain focus during the work periods.
3. Offer Guidance
Make the offer to help them create a study plan so the work ahead of them can be broken down into more manageable pieces that will feel less scary. But don’t push. Let them know you are there if they need help, support, advice and any other kind of guidance, and then give them the space to figure out how to manage. Again, this is obviously more pertinent the older the child is. Primary age kids do need more guidance, but they also need a certain level of autonomy that gives them an internal sense of being capable. It also allows them to make mistakes and learn from them. Because they should also know that those exams aren’t going to make or break their life at that age. They really aren’t.
4. Watch their Nourishment
We already mentioned keeping some physical activity and movement in the equation. But alongside that, watch their diet! Stress can lead to skipping meals or random binges on nutritionally deficient foods. This tends to get the blood sugar out-of-whack, making stress harder to handle, the thinking process foggier, and the likelihood of sickness higher. This is a vicious cycle. The brain is a hungry organ, and foods high in Omega 3 and fatty acids are most important for concentration and absorption. Also, hydration is key since the brain is 75% water!
5. Keep the Sleep Schedule
Photo Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/10/18/236211811/brains-sweep-themselves-clean-of-toxins-during-sleep
Alongside that, encourage a normal sleep schedule! There can be an urge to cram, and stay up way past the point of exhaustion. Not only does that not benefit the retention of information, but it also lowers immunity, increases anxiety, and generally doesn’t serve anything well.
6. Don’t Dwell
After each exam is done, don’t spend time making them go over what happened already. It encourages self-doubt and makes them worry about something that can’t be changed. Help their confidence by giving them a moment to celebrate, time to relax and then switch the focus for the exam that is next to come.
7. Normalize Failures
Also important: let them know that stress is a natural response to a challenge. It shows up as a desire to perform well. But equally, they should not be so over-stressed because they fear failure. Let them know that failure is a part of life, and a way of learning.
8. Observe their Style
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Help them discover their learning style and the kind of environment that supports them. Do they like quiet or background sound? Do they prefer solitary study or working in a group? Are they visual, tactile, or verbal? What tools can they keep available for each one? Ideally, whatever their style or preferred environment, somewhere well-ventilated, well-lit, and tidy is most conducive alongside it.
9. Don’t Forget Downtime
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Refrain from over scheduling them! That is a major source of stress nowadays. Between school and extracurricular activities and chores and homework and the general regular concerns, downtime becomes forgotten. We all need time for unstructured play and just ‘being’. That’s where rejuvenation happens.
10. Teach Self-Care
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At the center of all of this is helping your kids learn to listen to their bodies. Letting them know some common signs of stress, anxiety, exhaustion, hunger, dehydration, emotional overwhelm, and so on, is significant. It helps them tune into themselves, language their feelings, and honor their own needs.
And one more thing before you go, if you want something great to show your kids on how to cope with anxiety, here is a great video from ChildLine!:
That’s all folks! If you’ve got some other exam-time strategies to deal with stress and help with success, make sure to add them to our comments below. We love hearing from you. And remember, don’t be this lady: