Exam stress: How can parents deal with it

Parents can prepare themselves for the exam season to avoid making children anxious

It’s that time of the year when both students and parents start to feel the heat of exam pressure. While some competitive spirit may be healthy, sometimes the balance tips, leaving both parents and their wards anxious and stressed. Psychologists have noticed that often, these anxieties related to academic performance and its eventual effect on a child's life stem from parents who, consciously or unconsciously, offload it on their child. 

Priyanka Mantripragada from White Swan Foundation spoke to Dr M Manjula, additional professor in clinical psychology, about how parents can help their children during exams, without making them overly anxious or marring their self-confidence. 

How can I help my child during exams? 

A parent should act as a facilitator for the child during exams. Remember, the child is already feeling anxious and stressed about their performance in exams. At this juncture, as a parent, you could:

  • Help your child create a study timetable so there is sufficient time to revise the subjects 
  • Assist the child in revising the study material 
  • Provide adequate and nutritious food to keep them fit and healthy 
  • Monitor your child's sleeping pattern and make sure they get adequate rest 
  • Provide the much needed assurance and emotional support for your child to overcome their apprehensions

How do I know whether my child is suffering from exam stress? 

As a parent, you will know how your child reacts when they are scared, tense or anxious. Often children talk to parents about their anxieties, frustrations, or their difficulties in coping with studies. Some of the anxieties expressed by children are that they have not adequately prepared, what if they do not get the seat/course they want, inability to concentrate, forgetting everything, not able to grasp the subjects etc. Also, some children tend to oversleep or sleep very little, while some others may have an upset stomach just before exams or may express hopelessness and anxiety about the results. Sometimes due to severe anxiety, students may involve in self harming behaviors also. All these are signs of stress and anxiety due to exams. Being available for the child and monitoring becomes important to keep track of any changes in their behaviour. Reassuring the child that the focus is on learning rather than on marks will calm them to a great extent. It is important to keep your calm and not to induce fear in them. 

My child wants to study at night. Should I allow this?

Every child is different and so are their study habits. Some prefer sleeping early and waking up early in the morning to study, while others concentrate better at night. If your child can study at night and rest in the morning, let them do so. Also, remember that children tend to sleep more in their adolescence. If their sleep is disturbed, they won’t be able to function efficiently during the day time. 

How can I help my child make a study schedule?

The amount of help required may depend on the needs of the child. Some of the ways in which parents can help are: 

  • Check how much of the course has been completed 
  • Offer suggestions on making a time table and help them follow it
  • Explain concepts if they are confused about it
  • Encourage them to take some time out to relax
  • Give them tests at home if they are slow in writing and organizing their answers

What are the things I need not worry about?

Many children in high school do become responsible towards their studies during exams. So avoid trying to control them and give them space to study by themselves. What is important is making them feel responsible for their studies. So, excessive monitoring and guiding does not help them learn better. 

I have seen parents sitting with their children and making them study even when they are in high school-- this sounds more interfering than supportive. Tell them that they can approach you if they need help in understanding some topic or concept, and that they need not worry or get anxious about exams. 

Can I let my child browse the internet, watch TV or go play outside?

It's okay if your child takes a break from studying to check a message on the phone or browse the internet for some time. But there should be some amount of self-control on how much time is spent on the internet and phone. Instead, suggest going for a walk or listening to music for sometime. This may help your child feel refreshed. As a parent, the best thing to do is to make them feel responsible for their actions. 

As a parent, how do I de-stress myself during exams?

You need to first understand that each child is unique and every child has his or her own strengths and talents. You also need to understand and accept that people can make a living and lead a good life, with or without ace marks. Valuing your child only on the basis of academics is not at all the right thing to do. Parents need to get over this misconception and mind block. Academics are just one part of life and not life itself. Accepting the child's potential and finding possibilities within that purview is a sensible way to support your child. 

How do I talk to my child about success and failure?

As a parent, you can begin by being clear about your own ideas of academic success and failure. For example, if you believe that getting marks less than 90% is failure, your child will inadvertently imbibe the same idea. So when they score 85%, which is considered a healthy score, they will feel disappointed because their parents do not consider it to be good enough. As a parent, it is best if you can give more importance to your child becoming a sensible and compassionate individual in society. 

Helping them identify their strengths, interests, and reinforcing their self-esteem and self-confidence is the most important and sensible way of nurturing your child. This should be reflected in your everyday conversations with your child. See that your day to day conversations do not indicate that you respect only success, show the attitude of taking both success and failure even-handedly and also that both are equally important. Ask yourself, what is the content of your talk with your child most of the time? Is that making your child feel happy and confident? If not, you need to change the content of your talk such that your child grows as a healthy and happy individual.