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Helping Children with Exam Stress

It’s the last day of September! And this means the end-of-year examinations are coming. In fact, PSLE is starting tomorrow!

We have all been through numerous examinations in our student years and we’ve all definitely experienced exam stress. We have our own ways to tackle it but for young children who are new to this pressure, parents will have to guide them through this period. So, this article is for parents with school-going children looking for ways to help their little ones.

What Causes Exam Stress?

Before we jump into solutions or tops, let us first explore what leads to this dreadful feeling. Exam stress can come from a multitude of reasons, including:

  • Fear of “failure”

  • Pessimism

  • Unrealistic expectations

  • Feeling unprepared

  • Performance anxiety

The key to managing stress levels lies in knowing its causes, so we’ll all have to put in the effort to observe and discover what lies in each individual child (every kid is different!).

How do I know if My Child is Stressed?

Not all children will realise that they are stressed and even if they do know, some may not (dare to) ask for help. As parents, it is ideal if we can be observant and keep an eye out for signs that our kids may be under stress, such as:

  • Anger/frustration

  • Sleep problems

  • Nausea/stomach upset

  • Loss of appetite/eat more

  • Negative and in low moods

  • Feeling negative about the future

If you notice these signs, you’ll be empowered with the knowledge to try supporting them and help manage their stress levels. Here are some tips we’ve found.

1. Setting realistic expectations

Image Source: Medium

Children often get stressed because the expectations for their own grades are too high. This expectation can come from themselves, their friends, or even their parents. It is not ideal to push them too hard or set overly high standards or even compare with their peers. Instead, help your child and yourself appreciate them as they are. Part of the parenting journey lies in discovering and realising realistic, within-reach goals, rather than a top-down approach.

After all, a child’s result isn’t the parent’s, and as much as everyone wishes for the best, there is no point in making a kid wear a hat (100 marks) bigger than what they can take (e.g. 80 marks).

2. Encouraging good lifestyle habits

Image Source: Victor Brave/ ISTOCK

This goes without saying! Irregular sleeping patterns and unhealthy eating habits will likely mess up a child’s hormones and worsen their mood and next-day concentration. We all know burning the midnight oil before an exam day is counter-productive, so why allow our kids to do it? Diet-wise, skipping meals just to study is definitely a no-go!

A parent’s role would lie in helping children keep track of time and remind them when it is time for bed, not the opposite. With so much nutritional knowledge nowadays, we can also provide occasional healthy snacks, which would surely perk-up our kids’ study sessions!

3. Encouraging productive breaks

Image Source: Friendship Circle

There is a limit to every human’s concentration and productivity levels. Having regular short breaks in-between study sessions will help refresh kids’ minds and allow them to absorb more information. These breaks can be as simple as a quick snack or grocery run - just to take them away from their books momentarily.

The change of environment - sights and sounds and everything in between - provides a break from non-stop revision, allowing them to recharge and come back refreshed. Well, none of us are stuck to the screen the whole day during WFH, isn’t it?

4. Knowing their schedule

Image Source: Business Review

Being stressed can make your child confused about their own exam schedule. Knowing your children’s schedule as a parent helps remove mental burdens from both parties, hence allowing the kid to focus on their revision.

Did we also mention that it helps the parent too? Without knowing a child’s schedule and being unable to, for example, ensure that your child reaches the exam venue with time to spare, the anxiety arising from being almost late can lead to blame apportionment, distracting the child even more during the paper. A major exam, with its full length of procedures, is already a whirlpool of unknown, some peace and stability in this sense would definitely help.

5. Encourage them after their exams

Image Source: Kids Helpline

Now the exams are over. Yay! What’s next? Many students dwell on his mistakes and the possibility that the paper “did not go well”, much as adults do. Parents can support children by looking out for any low mood and offer to listen to their concerns, instead of bemoaning them for their mistakes, or worse, indulge in pessimism together.

Regardless of the potential result, a supportive parent reassures their children that what matters is that they did their best, that nothing could be changed, and learn from their mistakes to do better the next time (falling just short of “See lah I told you right?”).

Being There for Them

Exams have to be done alone, but what often sets the best students apart is the “village” behind them - as from the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. Always expressly make it known to your kids that you are always there for them, be it for a chat or a hug.

One last thought from us: as much as it is stressful for them, so would it be for you, as a parent. So do remember to take care of yourself as well!

Top image source: Medium

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