How parents can manage exam stress

keepcalmpic1Changing the way you think will help your child

Tense, anxious, bad-tempered and irrational describe not just the kids taking exams, but their parents as well. The exam period puts strain on everyone: students, parents, families and friends. On the whole, their pets don’t suffer, and that gives us a clue. Pets, as we know, (some of them, at any rate) love you unconditionally, or at least their lasting affection is dependent on the simplest of conditions, mainly food-based. You can probably see where this is going.

Keeping calm is vital during the exam period, and the more strongly you communicate your love and acceptance of your child for who he or she is, the more likely he or she is to survive this taxing time without ill-effects.

Personal, familial, social and economic pressures put great strain on young persons (YPs) to do well at exams. The only part of this complex web of influences that you can control is you yourself. Understanding your own attitudes to exam performance and managing the way that you think about it is a great first step to helping your YP through the exam process.

One of the things I learnt in my career as a teacher is that YPs are smart and have an inbuilt BS-detector. They know when you claim to be disappointed, not angry, you are so mad you can hardly control yourself. They know  when you say you haven’t marked their essays because you were watching a documentary on the influence of European Renaissance drama on Shakespeare’s contemporaries you were actually well into your third Long Island Iced Tea or the Mad Men box set. So they know, somewhere deep inside they know when you are saying things that you think you mean but actually don’t.

When you say ‘All that matters is that you do your best’ you might really be thinking ‘And your best had better be good enough to get you into the right school/university/job.’

When you say ‘You are yourself, not your brother or sister’ you might really be thinking ‘But you would do better if you worked as hard as they did.’

When you say ‘We will love you even if you get a low grade’ you might really be thinking ‘You had better not get a low grade.’

When you say ‘It won’t be the end of the world if you don’t do well enough’ you might really be thinking ‘But we’ll never get back the time/effort/money we poured into your education.’

When you say ‘It doesn’t matter how other people do’ you might really be thinking ‘I will die if my friend’s/neighbour’s/brother’s/sister’s kid makes the grade and you don’t.’

You might find it helpful to straighten out your thinking. Expectations are natural, and disappointments are natural and inevitable, but you are an intelligent person and you know:

  • A person’s worth is not dependent on exam performance.
  • Parental love is unconditional. It can absorb disappointment and frustration.
  • There are far, far worse things in life than unsatisfactory exam grades.
  • A setback is only a setback.
  • Life will go on. It may take a different direction from the one you expected. That is the nature of life.

Thoughts such as these will keep you calm and focused on what really matters, which is supporting your YP through this period. When you find unhelpful thoughts popping into your head as you negotiate a path through the turbulent exam period, replace them with measured reflections. You will benefit and YPs will get the loving supportive vibe they need.