Testing times: How to help your child beat exam stress

Over the next few weeks, hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the UK will be feeling the pressure as they sit their final GCSE and A-Level exams. It can be an extremely tense period. A recent poll carried out by the National Education Union found more than two thirds of teachers say their school or college is having to provide significantly more support to students due to mental health issues than five years ago, with 81 percent blaming this increase on the pressure of tests and exams.

So, for parents worried about the impact this stress will be having on their own child, what can you do to help relieve the tension? Here are five tips for bringing harmony to the exam period.

Is your child getting enough sleep?

The temptation for young people fretting over upcoming exams is to stay up late every night revising. This is entirely counter-productive and could be harming your child’s mental health. Simple steps to help your child get enough sleep are cutting out caffeinated drinks in the evening, eating a healthy dinner before 7pm and stopping all revising two hours before going to bed. If possible, studying should also be avoided in your child’s bedroom – a place that should be exclusively for relaxation and sleep.

Don’t forget the fun

As the old saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy so make sure your child gets regular opportunities to switch off and relax. You could even splash out on a spa day mid-way through exams and pay for your child to have a massage as a reward. If that’s out of your price range, then why not just go swimming together for a couple of hours each weekend, one of the best exercises there is for controlling anxiety.

Are you being too pushy?

Most parents want their child to do the very best they can but it’s important that you don’t push them too hard and pile on more pressure at this late stage. Be available and be helpful but, ultimately, revising for exams and getting a good grade is your child’s responsibility. GCSEs and A-Levels are a perfect opportunity for young people to learn the value of self-reliance and hard work. Getting through exams on their own merits will also do wonders for your child’s self-esteem.

Consider mindfulness

Stress is a fact of life but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer our children ways to better control it. Mindfulness meditation is a brilliant way to relieve anxiety and has been proven to be particularly effective during exam times. There are countless resources online to show you the basics of this type of meditation, something which can be picked up almost immediately and takes as little as 15 minutes per day. Best of all, it can be done together so both you and your child share in the relaxation. It will also give your child a valuable tool for self-calming in other stressful situations.

Don’t make exams the be all and end all

Encourage your child to talk openly about the stress their feeling and remind them that, whilst it’s important they do the best they can, exams aren’t the be all and end all. They help us to understand what we’re good at and what we aren’t. If you get a disappointing grade for maths, well, you might not be destined to be a mathematician, and that’s not the end of the world. It’s a process of self-discovery and it helps us to understand both our strengths and our weaknesses.

Words written by Helen Lami who is Director of Academic Summer