With term 4 well under way in Australia, many parents both with children at school or at university are dreading the stress heading for their household once exams hit! Many people when studying for exams become anxious due to feeling out of control, feeling unprepared and feeling that they haven’t done enough. The good news is that there are practical steps you can take to support your child in the lead up to their exam period, during their exams and afterwards which can put you and your children in the best frame of mind during this time!
The statistics aren’t great, with studies showing that one-in-two school students aged 14-18 are exhibiting worrying stress levels over exams. Almost half of all Australian students (47%) have reported feeling that they are struggling with their subjects, felt their workload was excessive and at exam time, felt underprepared. Another interesting finding is that while parents and teachers are responsible in part for creating this pressure to perform, the unanimous finding is that the number once source of pressure to achieve comes not from school or home, but from themselves.
Whilst as adults we know that the results are not the be all and end all in life, when in the eye of the storm, the stress your children are feeling is real. On the one hand, physiologically, some stress is helpful. The initial production of adrenaline helps us to focus better and makes us more alert to the information we are receiving. Unfortunately, when too much adrenaline is in our system over a prolonged period of time, it has the complete opposite affect! Exam stress can lead to depression and anxiety, panic attacks, low esteem and worsening of existing health conditions. What you may notice is that your child is fidgeting more, biting their nails, becoming more moody or showing you that they can’t be bothered and that they are not motivated.
We can all relate to these feelings and many of us felt them during our own exams and may feel them in our own work places from time to time. However, the key to most successes in life is with good planning, preparation and organisation and this is where you can possibly help your children the most. Before your child starts their exam period, make sure that they know what is expected from them with regards to their revision. Do they have all of the notes and text books they need? Do they have an actual schedule to work from with time built in for each subject? Is there enough time to give all of their subjects the time and attention that they need? This is something you can help your children to work out by going through their exam timetable with them and assisting them to set themselves up for success.
Once the planning is done, it’s time to get down to business and a common mistake is not scheduling enough time to take breaks! Taking a break is essential to higher productivity, concentration and efficiency. Studies show that we reach “perfect productivity” by working 52 minutes and then taking a break for 17. While you can set an alarm to remind your child to take a break every 50 minutes, what’s more important is that that they have frequent breaks and find a rhythm that works for them that they can confidently stick to. It is also completely counter productive to continue studying once you are feeling anxious. That is a sign to take a break. That break could include mindfulness activities, listening to music or deep breathing. Studies have also shown that the endorphins released by exercise help people to feel more positive and so during breaks, physical exercise such as a short game of basketball in the driveway, walking the dog or some kick to kick in the lounge room should be encouraged.
During exam period, it is also more important than ever that your child goes to bed at a reasonable time each night. Sleep is known to improve memory and reduce the effects of stress on the body and mind.
Once any individual exam is over, it can be very helpful to have a ritual to mark that the subject is over before hitting the books again! This can be something as simple as going out for an ice cream, ticking off the date on a calendar or in some cases throwing notes in the bin! This sends a powerful message to your child that they did their best, and nothing is to be gained by reliving it.
This message is even more important once all of the exams are over – your child needs to understand that you are proud of them, know they have done their best and that you admire their tenacity for getting through a difficult period in their lives.
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