Exam time is looming and for some the stress levels are probably quite high. Often the reality is that we parent’s often worry more about the work that needs to be done than our teenagers. For many parents there is a sense of dread leaving them feel overwhelmed and powerless in supporting their child to successfully negotiate their way through the next two weeks of exams. You can do a huge amount now to support your son or daughter. Below are some helpful tip
Tips for supporting your son or daughter
Know the exam schedule. Pin the exam timetable up prominently at home, with each exam to be taken highlighted. Diary the date and time of each paper your teenager has to take.
Ensure that your son or daughter is present for each exam. For parents who are working, and leaving home early, avoid the ultimate disaster of your child missing an exam. Ensure they are up and dressed before you leave home for work each morning. A small number of students regularly fail to turn up for morning papers.
Draw up a check list of daily requirements, based on the day’s exams. Make a final check each morning before you leave home, so your son or daughter is fully prepared for the day’s exams. Writing instruments along with the other requirements such as rulers, erasers, calculators, should be checked, along with reading glasses, water, and any non-intrusive nourishment such as glucose sweets, or fruit.
Listen to the story of the day and move on. After each day’s exams allow your teenager the space to tell their story and move on to the next challenge. Avoid the review in detail of any errors or omissions in the paper as this just increases stress.
Well Balanced Daily Routine
Study & Breaks during exams. Exercise and diet are also really important to help them feel more in control of their anxiety and stress. This is the one area that parents can be very helpful as we can direct our energies, usefully, to minding our teenagers with cups of tea and wholesome food. Eating well and regularly and getting outdoors for a walk will also counteract the negative physical effect of the stress and improve their mood.
Generally speaking, a study break should be taken for 10 minutes every hour. The amount of time to study is dependent on each student. Students have their own tolerance for concentration and intensive study. Some students can sustain 50 minutes, others can do two hours, but it is important for the child to take a break. They should get up and move, get something to eat or get out in the fresh air.
If the teenager won’t take a break it is important sometimes to just say ‘Ok, we need to stop now. Let’s go for a walk and go outside.’ You have to sometimes tell them, rather than just encourage, because four or five hours on the trot is not going to always lead to good retention, it’s too much.
The most important thing we can do is to avoid panicking ourselves. If you seem grounded and confident it will go a long way to helping them to stay calm and on track.
Should parents discuss the importance of exams in the days leading up to them?
At this stage the work is done now and reminding them the importance of the exam’s causes a lot more stress and that interferes with retention, concentration, attention and memory. It is important as parents that we recognise that this is important, but it is not the defining moment in the life of a young person.
It helpful if we encourage them to do the best they can and ask them what kind of assistance or support if any, they need. As we know the teenagers might respond that they just want to be left alone which as a parent you have to respect but you are there in the background to listen if they need it at any stage.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can a parent support an anxious teenager?
Most teenagers will find this a stressful and anxious time. Although stress can be seen as a negative experience research highlights that we need a little bit of stress to perform well. How much stress is the right amount will vary from each student as every person has their own tolerance for stress. Some youngsters will be at their optimum when the deadline for the exams is virtually upon them and everyone’s expectations are high. Others need a much more low-key approach to avoid being overwhelmed.
One of the most important things in terms of stress reduction is getting out in the fresh air and doing some kind of proper breathing exercise. I have attached a presentation with a list of anxiety reduction techniques which you can have as a resource.
Proper breathing is really important in controlling stress – breathing deep into the lungs, some nice deep breaths, two or three minutes several times a day. Everyone has a smart phone these days, there are lots of apps to help guide breathing ex CALM or Headspace or popular.
What to do the night before the exam
Do a checklist that they have all their materials prepared for the exam next day. Ensure they get a good night’s rest, that’s the most important thing. If they have difficulty in sleeping, get them to try the deep breathing or listen to a meditation on an app.
Reassure your teenager if they think the exam went really bad
Reassure them of your love and support no matter what the outcome of exams and emphasise that this is not the be all and end all for them. Ask them ‘Did you put enough effort into studying for the exam?’ If the answer is yes, then you could say, ‘Well, you’ve done the best you could, no one can expect more from you. We’ll stand by you no matter what the result is’.
If they say no, you have to say, ‘Let’s see what the results are and we can deal with it than”. I am here to help, and we can move on from this. Remind them that we cannot change the past we can only now look forward now to the next exam and do our best.
Teenagers who get up in the early hours of the morning to study?
Lots of students cram the morning of the exam and there is nothing necessarily wrong with this once they have had a good night’s sleep.
Support is available as Principals and deputy principals, who have guided students through this process over many years, will also be close at hand every day to resolve problems which may arise.
Finally, parents should ensure their son or daughter facing into the State exams over the coming weeks is absolutely clear that your unconditional love and regard for them is in no way dependent on how they perform in the Junior or Leaving Cert. This affirmation is the greatest gift you can give them at the start of their examinations as “Together We Achieve”
Find some tips for dealing with stress and anxiety here