According to the NHS, childhood stress increases during exam time. It’s important to notice symptoms of stress in your child, for example:
- Headaches or muscle cramps
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of interest in their favourite foods, or eating more than normal
- Disinterest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Feeling hopeless about the future
What can you do?
Make sure your child has access to someone they can talk to, whether it’s yourself, a buddy, a parent, psychologist or teacher. Talking to someone is profoundly powerful and beneficial in a variety of ways.
Support group, Childline says many children who contact them at exam time report that most pressure comes from their family. Childline advises parents to be more flexible and understanding – untidy rooms and household chores can take a backseat.
They also recommend listening without criticism. As a parent, be patient, remind your child that it’s normal to feel anxious. Help them practice the activities they’ll be doing on exam day, for example doing a practice paper. This will help them face their fears, rather than avoiding them.
Assure them that failing is not the end of the world. If things do not go well they may be able to take the exam again. Richard Branson didn’t go to college, Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times – there are countless examples of people who have achieved greatness who previously flunked.
After each exam, encourage your child to talk it through with you. Discuss the parts that went well rather than focusing on the questions they found difficult.
Get out in nature
Activities like gardening help relieve stress. Encourage your child to create a pretty flower arrangement, or plant seedlings. There have been numerous research reports confirming the effects of nature on people: fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, higher attention span and a greater ability to relax and concentrate.
Soil also contains a serotonin boosting bacteria!
Or why not buy your child a plant – having something to look after increases self-awareness, it gets them out of their heads and gives them a sense of something else needing their time and attention. Wellness coach, Roch Blomeyer says, “When a plant is thrown in the mix of daily things that can feel mundane or anxious ridden, your thoughts need to be drawn from time to time to this living, changing entity that is subject to the circumstances you put it in.”
Meditation and mindfulness
Stress causes increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has several harmful effects including releasing inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, increasing blood pressure, promoting depression and anxiety, and contributing to fatigue and cloudy thinking.
In an 8-week study, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress. While focused-attention meditation was found to improve attention span and accuracy.
Encourage children to think positively by repeating positive affirmations centred in the present, for example: I am acing my exam today. I am celebrating my great results with friends. Visualisations are also powerful tools – for example visualising getting into a dream university, what does it feel like to walk through those doors? Think of specifics as if they are in the present, like what does the lecture hall smell like? What are you wearing on your first day?
Mindfulness is an essential life skill that benefits us well into adulthood, helping us cope with stressful situations. Giving your child the gift to develop this now will set them up for life.
Stress and anxiety is part of life, and is one of the reasons learning institutions still have exams, because aside from testing knowledge, exams test a child’s ability to cope with stress and handle pressure. This is essentially what prepares them for a successful future. At Wingu it’s our job to help parents and students alike navigate this critical time through on-demand access to digital learning and end-to-end support.