There’s a missing element to exams that not many realise. It’s the key to emotional equilibrium for both the child and parent and it has nothing to do with revision!
The reality of exam stress
Stress of tests, assessments and exams are nothing new, we’ve all been through that emotional roller-coaster at some stage in our lives either at school or later in life. But never has the intensity of pressure, stress and pre-exam meltdowns been so extreme for young people at all levels, be it 11+, SATs, GSCEs or A Levels. Now’s an appropriate time to fully equip our young people to recognise stress triggers well before any emotional explosion, and gain strength from the process, rather than developing an unhealthy habit of dreading any tests or exams in the future.
It’s also important to put ‘exam stress’ into context because stress itself is not the demon many perceive it to be. Certain levels of stress and pressure can be beneficial. With ‘fight or flight’, our body acts positively to short periods of stress, providing energy in the form of adrenaline and clarity of thought: very useful in exam situations. It’s only when the body and the mind is under extreme stress for longer periods of time that the negative effects are felt, leading to fatigue.
Turn Negative Associations into Positive Empowerment
The first step in managing any rising emotion or potential for revision overwhelm is the ability to see things as they really are.
I often ask Children or Teens I coach, ‘How would you climb a mountain?’
And aside from the wonderful practical and creative responses, the real answer is only ever, ‘One step at a time!’
When thinking of a big task or revising for exams, the mind becomes quickly full by seeing the whole thing – the whole range of subjects, all the books and notes that need to be remembered – immediately creating stress. This is the overwhelming, unhelpful stress which tightens the brain’s ability to think clearly, shutting-off creative flow and concentration. It creates a term I refer to as ‘brain-fog’ (not to be confused with ‘brain freeze’!).
Brain fog is the point where your child feels their head is so congested and overloaded it might just suddenly explode! Trouble is, when we focus on too many different things at once; nothing gets fully completed or achieved, becoming detrimental to revision and exam preparation.
Some top tips to help you and your child through exam season
- Make sure they set a clear study time and stick to it. Make it maximum 30 minutes at a time and plan, or let them plan, something fun or relaxing straight after.
- Prepare a clear study area away from distractions to help them maintain focus.
- Gather all the resources needed within easy reach for that subject/revision.
- Suggest they create a checklist of what needs to be studied or revised and work through… step by step.
- Before starting, the child should take a few deeper breaths into the belly, feel the seat underneath them, have their feet on the floor and concentrate on them for a moment, helping them feel grounded and calm.
- Do they need your help? Often a child or teen benefits from having you sit with them for reassurance and to keep focused if they’re easily distracted and feel unsettled.
- Ensure they make a commitment for a pre-agreed amount of time that they focus on their revision only (switch off mobile, games, TV, etc).
- If feelings of stress, pressure or overwhelm creep in, it means they’ve travelled in time! They’re either worrying about past results or overwhelmed with the future such as how are they going to revise for ‘everything’… calmly remind them… one step at a time. These are normal thoughts as our minds wander often. And now’s the time for them to take control of it: they simply take attention to their feet, feel them grounded and solid on the floor and take a few deeper breaths into the belly until the mind and feelings have settled again. Then continue until the scheduled study time has ended.
- To finish, help your child slowly and mindfully pack their materials away, using this process to let go of any stress creeping in. Use belly breathing to relax, and then let them go and celebrate what’s been achieved in that study time.
- They and you can both completely relax and enjoy some free time!
Repetition leads to recognition so do this each study time and they’ll come to find it easier to deal with revision as well as feel calmer and in control as the exams arrive.
As parents and teachers, you naturally feel certain stresses and pressures too during this period. Learn to let it go using deeper belly breathing and take a mental (or physical) step back to regain perspective and control.
Do you have any experience of tackling exam stress, either finding or needing ways to help your child through them? Comment below, like and share via social media. Keep up to date with our latest news and blogs on Twitter @Parentkind.
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