Handling exam stress can be an issue for the parent of any Junior Cert or Leaving Cert student as the pressure builds in the lead-up to exam time. A small amount of stress can be helpful to motivate a student to get started, but if it gets out of hand, stress can inhibit the ability to focus and perform well.
Here we have gathered some advice and tips for parents to help you maintain a calm environment and keep the stress levels under control.
Be vigilant - watch out for the signs
Students who are experiencing stress may be irritable, lose interest in food, worry a lot, appear depressed and/or negative, and may not sleep well. Stomach pains and headaches and can sometimes be stress related.
Your child's welfare is more important than the exam. Their emotional well-being is paramount. Panic and stress will not help exam performance - it is more likely to undermine the study and work done to date - the key thing is to help reduce the pressure.
Don't add to the pressure
Having someone to talk to can help, so the strength of your relationship is important at this time. Students value support from a parent. Talk with them about the exams and how they feel about them. Ensure your child knows that you are there for them. Work on relating to them in positive ways and offer encouragement with their study, rather than doubting their efforts. Help them to verbalise any study blocks they are facing and to work out ways to overcome them.
Talking it through and having the opportunity to air their worries will help the student to keep things in perspective, not to panic, and to maintain focus.
When learning is threatening, a teenager can go into avoidance, sickness, and perfectionism, a combination that can lead to fear of failure. Fear of failure is a common issue for students at exam time. It can be due to feeling anxious about not meeting other people's expectations, or letting you down. Teenagers are already under a lot of pressure and they don't need more pressure from you.
It is important to seperate out the person from their performance - have realistic expectations of what your child can achieve and let them know that they are more important to you than an exam result.
Ensure your child eats and sleeps well, and takes regular exercise
A balanced diet is vital for health and well being, especially during exam periods. Too many high-fat, high-sugar or caffeinated foods and drinks can contribute to irritability and mood swings.
Good quality sleep will improve thinking and concentration. Most teenagers need between eight and ten hours' sleep a night to acheive this. Allow half an hour or so after study time or after watching TV/ using the computer, before your child goes to bed. This will help with getting a good night's sleep.
Encourage exercise - it can help boost energy levels, clear the mind, relieve stress and help with acheiving a restful night's sleep. Walking, cycling, swimming, football, dancing etc. - are all effective.
Help with study goals
Talk with your child about the importance of making out a study plan and setting goals. Check in around what needs to be done and help them with dividing the work into the time available.
Students are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work to be covered so the earlier a study plan is in place the better. Help them to see that breaking tasks into manageable chunks is the key to feeling you are on top of the study, rather than overwhelmed by it.
Encourage students to wind down between study sessions for 10 minutes or so - this will help with focus and retention of learning.
Cramming all night before an exam is generally a bad idea. Sleep will benefit your child far more than hours of panicky last-minute study.
More on Study Skills here.
Be flexible at exam time
When your child is revising all day, don’t worry about household jobs that are left undone - the untidy bedroom can wait. Staying calm yourself will help your student to remain calm. Remember, the exams won’t last forever.
Keep your relationship in No.1 position
The strength of your relationship is the primary control you have over your teenager. The more you work on relating to them in positive ways, the more influence you will have in guiding them in the lead-up to exam time.
You can't force them to study! Even if they are in their room, you have no idea if they are studying or not. Instead, work on encouraging and supporting them in their learning efforts and helping them with any blocks that get in the way of progress.
Reward their efforts and make time for treats
What you put out comes back to you, whether its positive or negative, and the more you put out, the more you will get back. Remind your teenager of what they are doing well, and tell them regularly! Work on catching them being good and reward them with little treats to keep them motivated - a nice cup of tea, a mug of hot chocolate - a little praise goes along way.