Exam Season Tips For Parents

May 21, 2024

Being a parent and child in today's generation can be stressful for all. As a mum of two now adults, ages 23 and 20, I have ridden this wave. I am going to share with you some of the things I have learned personally and professionally over the years. Let's take a look at how we can reduce ‘Exam season stress’.

For parents

  1. Ask yourself what you expect of your teenager and why. Do you want them to be successful? Or maybe reach their full potential? Do you want them to have a good work ethic? Or follow in your footsteps or even have better opportunities than you have had. These are all valid wants for your child; however, they need to want all of those things more than you to reach their goals.
  2. Make your child's overall well-being and mental health your priority. While exams are important, how they cope mentally and emotionally is just as important, if not more so.
  3. Don’t let the pressures you feel about their exams impact your relationship with your child. Encouragement and pressure are a fine balance, and battling with your child frequently only isolates them.
  4. The grades your child achieves do not define the person that they are.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Your teenager is going through huge physical, emotional, and environmental transitions, which may be challenging. However, with your support, both you and they will get through this.
  6. Your child’s mental health is more important than ever. Managing your stress and expectations will help them to manage their stress.
  7. The teenage brain interprets tone differently from the adult brain. For example, a teenager may say, ‘Why are you shouting?’ when, in fact, you have simply altered your tone. Their brains genuinely perceive that you are shouting. Therefore, voice tone is really important when communicating with teenagers.
  8. If they grunt and don't communicate, this doesn’t mean they don’t care; it simply means they often are unable to communicate what’s going on for them but trust me, it’s all going on in their heads.
  9. Because teenagers notoriously hide in their bedrooms and communicate very sparsely, parents often find themselves firing questions at their children in the limited time they see them in an attempt to connect with them, ‘How was your day? What are you doing? Have you got everything ready for school? Have you tidied your room? ALL AT ONCE' etc. Try not to do this. This just irritates them and makes them potter off back to what they see as their safe haven (Bedroom or out with friends). Maybe offer them a drink; if you have time, sit down, and they may well come and join you. Find ways to connect with them.
  10. The human brain is not fully formed until the age of 25. Therefore, teenagers struggle to understand the consequences of their actions because the impulsive part of the brain isn’t fully connected to the reasoning and consequences part of the brain (this starts connecting age 13). Ask yourself how many mistakes you made under the age of 25, and you may find that this began to change post-25. Your teenager’s brain is the same. This can be tough as it doesn't seem to go in, even if parents try to educate their teenagers about the consequences of not studying. A great way to help connect the brain is by asking them the question, ‘What may be the consequences of doing or not doing X, Y or Z?’ and waiting for them to establish the answer. They may not have an answer, which is when you can ask if they would like to hear your thoughts. This is far more impactful than telling them directly.
  11. As adults, the concept of exams may not seem particularly stressful to us, but it's really important to validate how our teenagers are feeling, even if we don’t fully understand. Stress is all relative, and when your three-year-old threw a tantrum because they couldn't get their socks on, that was the most stressful thing in their world, and right now, exams may be the most stressful thing for your teenager. Validating how they are feeling helps them to feel heard and understood and is likely to help them open up more about how they are feeling and enable you to respond in a way that supports their overall well-being. You may say something like, ‘I can see that you’re worried right now, and that’s ok and really normal and understandable. I’m here to talk or help whenever you need to.’
  12. Try and make yourself available when your teenager is ready to talk. Often, because they are Owls, that may be 10 pm at night, but where possible, try connecting with them on their terms, as this can help build and maintain that lovely connection between you both.

How to help your teenager

  1. Pre-exams start to talk to your teenager about how they want their life to be. They may talk about houses and cars or holidays. This helps them look to the future rather than living in the present, where most teenagers live. This helps them see the value of studying as it is one step forward to where they want to be. If they don’t know what they want for their future, maybe ask them what they don’t want; this still provides a starting point. This helps them to form their own expectations rather than feeling like they need to live up to school or parent’s expectations together with helping to connect those parts of the brain that are still forming.
  2. Help them to manage their expectations. They may be super smart in some areas of their education and not so much in others. Therefore, encourage them to be mindful of this and recognise that we are all different and their best is good enough.
  3. Communication (you are more likely to get the responses that you would like if you communicate from a kind and curious place)
    1. Humans do not like being told what to do, so rather than telling them what to do, maybe get curious about what schools’ homework or revision expectations are of them today. This can be super useful, as telling them what they should be doing places you firmly on the same side as the school, whereas asking them what the school expects gives the sense that you are on their side.
    2. Learn when is the best time to address things with your teenager - I learned that speaking to my son first thing in the morning rarely ended well. I am a lark, and he is an owl, so he was not ready for the day to start in the same way that I was. Initially, I saw this as disrespectful, but when I learned that I could ask him the same question after school and get a perfectly pleasant answer, I respected that mornings were not his best time. Therefore, I leaned into his needs rather than my wants and fostered a LOT of patience. Which, in turn, reduced my frustrations and meant we stopped getting into preschool battles.
  4. Many teenagers love a revision plan. But many don’t. Ask your child what works for them. If they don’t know, maybe help them test various options. A strict hour-by-hour plan may suit one child, but a looser plan where X, Y and Z must be done by the end of the week is a good place to start and see which works for your child. Ask them if they would like help with this. Children will often only do what they want to do, and if we empower them to establish what works for them, this is more likely to be sustainable.
  5. Switching topics is okay. We all have different attention spans. Again, ask them how they learn best. Is it in short spurts, or do they prefer to get in the zone on one topic? Help them to learn about themselves. This also breeds respect between you, as you are collaborating with them rather than dictating.
  6. Help your child identify what helps them relax. When anxiety hits, it stops our brains from working efficiently, and we slip into survival mode. So, knowing what works for us is essential. Maybe help them choose a free-breathing app so that if they start to feel anxious or stressed, they can calm their body and mind down within a few minutes before it escalates. Although they won't be able to use an app within an exam, if they have learned the concept of breathing to calm their mind, then they can take this anywhere, even into the exam room. I would also recommend that parents do this, too, as pausing and taking a breath can help immensely in all times of stress.
  7. Exercise is also a great anxiety and stress buster – so maybe getting out into the fresh air before, in between or after studying can really help settle the mind.
  8. Make sure they schedule time out for themselves. Procrastination can be a huge factor for many of us, and as a result, we keep plugging away without an intentional break. Scheduling a break can help us stay focused when we need to.
  9. Encourage your teenager to relax the night before the exam and not to CRAM. A good night’s sleep is more likely to help overall than the final few points that may or may not have gone in. If we are sleep-deprived, anxiety is also more likely to rear its head. So rest is super important.
  10. Encourage them to ask for help. We all need help from time to time, and although you may not have the answer as a parent, you will help find the answer with them. A good way of helping our children to know that it’s ok to ask for help is by asking them for their help from time to time, ‘Can you get that vase off the top shelf for me please’ (my son used to think this was hilarious that I couldn’t reach it and he could. Of course, I could have got a stool and got it for myself, but to help him see that it’s ok to ask, I needed to model that)
  11. Remind your child that their grades do not define them and that you will always love them, whatever happens.