Now is the time of year when senior students enter preparation for sitting exams. It is a period of time that can be fraught with lots of emotions and you may notice some changes in young people under your care. For some, this is natural; it happens to all of us in one way or another. For others, it involves needing to have some helpful tips ready at hand. For some, it may be that you need to contact the school for support from the deans or the counselling team or seek some other medical or professional support. Whatever the case, there are some important things that all parents should know and can do as your young person prepares for exams.
Normalising is really important. It is very common for young people to put the importance of exam results as such a high priority in their lives that the stress and anxiety that ensues stop them from reaching their full potential. Telling them that it will be ok, that they can do this, and that you are proud of them no matter the result will go a long way to overcoming this. The more caregivers say this, the more that young people will internalise it and learn to cope with exams and other stressful situations.
Parents can help to minimise any stress and anxiety by noticing and listening. Sleeping patterns, mood, and appetite may likely change and become more erratic. While it is natural for parents to worry and want to talk about how their kids are feeling, it is not always a good idea to say too much. Instead, listen and be understanding. There will be times, maybe unexpectedly, when your child will want to open up and talk to you about what is on their mind. This is when you have the opportunity to be reassuring and encouraging and pour calm on troubled waters. Tell them to keep things in perspective—that while important, exams are not the be-all and end-all and, while they have sacrificed their time and energy to prepare, you will be proud of them, even if the result they get is not what they hope for.
For relaxation, encourage them to get into a habit of doing deep breathing exercises when they experience higher levels of anxiety. Downloading an app, like Headspace, can be good to get into this practice. Mindfulness exercises and visualisations are other good ways of grounding yourself when anxious or stressed. Physical exercise is a great way to increase the body’s production of important neurochemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, which help bring about a greater sense of well-being. Further, it is sometimes appropriate to have a time when you say, “right, there is going to be no study tonight” and spend the time as a family doing something together. Study is not as productive when they are tired, stressed, and anxious. A burst of fun and relaxation at this time can go a long way to remedy this.
If exam results turn out not to be what is hoped for, don’t show disappointment and displeasure. Instead, be nurturing. Remind them that there are options. Some short-term goals may be closed, and for some, reassessing their options is needed. Allow time for them to grieve these experiences and don’t minimise them. Instead, look for places to inspire hope.
In most cases, students will work things out and learn to deal with this time, however, if you notice any high levels of stress or anxiety that persists then please do contact the school or seek some other professional help. The Guidance Department can meet with students experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety and, if required, arrange some sessions of counselling for them.
If you have any questions on this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time.
Jay Smith, Head of Guidance