Helping your teen cope with exam stress

In a previous blog post (Coping with exam stress), we discussed the importance of eating well, getting enough sleep, staying organised and making time for leisure activities and relaxation.

If you’re worried about your teen, and feeling unsure about how to help them cope with the pressures of exam revision, then read on.

Generally, stress and anxiety can be managed. It’s important to try and understand why your teen is feeling so stressed (and how they’re showing it). Without the proper tools and coping strategies, many people lash out in anger and frustration when they are stressed. Sometimes people’s stress can result in apathy and lethargy. The person (your teen) may be so stressed out that they feel overwhelmed and incapable of getting anything done.

Your teen is probably stressed for one, or all, of the following reasons:

  • They are feeling pressure to do well (from you, school, teachers or themselves)
  • They are feeling overwhelmed
  • They are feeling insecure or a lack of confidence
  • They are feeling anxious because they do not know what to expect.

Here’s how to help:

Remind your child that their best is good enough

Take the pressure off a little by asking your child to set realistic goals and expectations. It’s essential that you listen to your teen at this point and try to understand what they think they can do. Of course we always want to have high expectations for our children (and we should have these!) but we should also realise what is achievable.

For example, if your child’s extra-mural activities are eating into their exam revision time, something has to give. You may also find that there is a particular section or subject that your child is finding very difficult. Just because your child was once good at Maths, doesn’t mean that they will always be!

Listen carefully and try to help where you can. And align your expectations to what your child is able to achieve – without pressure.

Provide the right tools and environment to ease the pressure

It’s essential that your child eats well and gets enough sleep throughout the year, but most especially during the times that they are focused on exam revision. Help out by stocking the pantry and fridge with suitable food. Try to keep the noise down after about 10pm during the week to ensure that your child can get a restful night’s sleep.

Encourage your child to get organised and informed

Ask your teen to write a list of things that are causing worry and anxiety, and then help to draw up a plan to resolve these issues. Often a lack of clarity and information can make someone feel anxious, so encourage your child to ask questions about the format of the exam, the exam writing process and any other questions they may have, which are causing stress.

If your child is stressed about something that you have control over or can help with, then help to clear things up. For example, if your child is worried about transportation on exam days, try to come up with a plan and outline this for your child so that they can stop worrying about it.

Build your child up

A confident and secure child will do better and feel better than a child who is insecure and suffering from a lack of confidence. Remind your teen that you love them and that you are proud of them. Recognise when your child has tried their best, as opposed to only giving praise when they have met your expectations.

Avoid financial or material rewards for good marks. It’s important that your child learn to feel intrinsically rewarded when they do their best. Also avoid rewards that revolve around food, as this can create complicated relationships with food and emotional states.

Ace it! may not be able to help much with the emotional stress of exams but the study guides can help with exam revision by working out learners’ individual learning style, outlining the content and preparing for exams. The more prepared a learner is for the exams, the less stressed they will feel.