As an adult you probably still wake up sweating sometimes, having dreamed about that one Maths exam you never studied for when you were 18. And this simple fact shows how powerful the anxiety regarding exams can be, something that is deep seated and remains buried in your sub conscious for years. It’s therefore highly important that you support your teens as much as possible as they head into end of year exams, so you can help limit their stress. Here are some ideas on how to do this:
- Look at their learning habits. Sit down with your teen and discuss which subjects are providing more stress, and which they are more confident in. It can also help to ascertain how you child works best: this could be using mind maps or watching videos which explain tricky concepts. Look at their exam timetable and start scheduling in chunks of time to revise certain topics. Help them join a study group, or organise them extra lessons for subjects that are worrying them. Once they can see that enough time has been allocated to everything, they will start to feel less overwhelmed by it all.
- Ensure they have healthy eating and sleeping patterns. Late night/last-minute cramming sessions help no one – they need to be well rested and nourished in order for their brains to perform at their best. Try and ensure that lights are out by 9pm each night, that they are eating healthy meals, and that they have brain boosting snacks at the ready during study sessions (think nuts or vegetable crudites and hummus).
- Be mindful of their online access. There is nothing more distracting than the internet and social media! While they may need access to the online world to research certain topics, monitor their use of it carefully and even consider suggesting that they place their phones in your care while they study for a couple of hours. This will help them to focus on the task at hand, instead of wasting time on Instagram.
- Encourage them to take breaks. Even a small “reward” like enjoying tea and a biscuit after a study session is an excellent motivator. Help them structure certain enjoyable activities after certain tasks have been completed, like going for a walk, meeting with a friend, or relaxing with a book in the garden. Explain that their brain needs breaks in order to function more effectively.
- Teach them specific relaxation techniques. Give them practical methods to help them relax during the exam or test. This could be breathing exercises, practising mindfulness briefly, or simply ways to approach the exam paper (reading through it all at once and underlining tasks before they start, for example). This will give them a course of action with which to begin, rather than feeling overwhelmed and floundering.
Above all, don’t brush off any feelings they express regarding exams. The anxiety is real and they need your support in order to do their best. As long as you are supportive and not overly critical, they’ll feel in a better place to give it their all, knowing that you’ll be there – whatever the results.