Education: How to help your kids cope with exam stress

    exam stress

    There’s nothing worse that watching your children struggle during exam time. Here, three experts share their advice on managing the exam stress

    Pressure is a funny thing. For some children, a little pressure makes them try harder and perform better. For others, it brings about late-night tears and early morning tummy aches, but there are a few simple steps you can take with your children to help them cope during their exams, according to Edward Watson and Bradley Busch, authors of Release Your Inner Drive: Everything You Need To Know About How to Get Good at Stuff (£9.99, Crown House Publishing):

    – Firstly encourage them to slow down – most children underestimate how much time they have in exams, leading to sloppy mistakes. By pausing for a moment, they allow themselves to think and come up with a plan.

    – Secondly, tell them to read the question without holding their pen. One of the most frequent mistakes made is misreading the question. Encourage your child to put down their pen when they read. This will counteract the urge to rush and write down an answer immediately.

    – Be sure to drink water. One of the side effects of stress is having a dry mouth. If this happens, it creates a vicious cycle; being aware of their dry mouth makes them realise how stressed they are. Sipping water helps alleviate this physiological sign of nerves as well as helping to increase concentration.

    – Lastly, encourage them not to put too much pressure on themselves. One sign that they are putting themselves under too much stress is thinking in extremes: ‘I have to get full marks’ and ‘I must write at least four pages’. This all-or-nothing thinking isn’t helpful. Help your children be kind to themselves by using words and phrases such as ‘I could’ or ‘I might’. For example, ‘I might write four pages in answer to this question, but if I’m struggling, it’s better to move on’.

    Likewise, staying positive throughout the exam period is one of the most effective things we can do to support our children. “Try to use a positive/negative ratio of about 8:1 – it may seem a lot, but telling your child when they’re doing things well is one of the most effective things parents can do,” says Andy Cope, happiness guru and author of The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence: How to Flourish in a Crazy World (£12.99, John Murray Learning).

    “It’s also important to praise for effort rather than talent; the advice from positive pyschology is that if your child accomplishes something, you are better off saying something like, ‘amazing! That’s what practice and hard work gets you!’

    “Try the four-minute rule: instead of asking ‘how was school?’, try, ‘what was the best thing about school today?’ or ‘what was the most amazing thing you learned?’ And then – the hardest part – give your child your undivided attention for four full minutes. Suddenly you’ve changed them by being a better version of yourself. The basic rule of parenting is that your children won’t do what you say – but they will do what you do. So, you will massively improve the odds of creating a happy child by being happy yourself first.”

    Revision tips

    What works:Little and often’ is better than a lot all at once. One hour a day for eight days beats eight hours in one day!

    What doesn’t: Despite its popularity, highlighting tends to be done on auto-pilot so doesn’t really help memory.

    The three things your children should do before an exam:
    Eat breakfast
    Get some fresh air
    Get a good night’s sleep

    Want more? How to prepare for the 4+ assessment