How parents can use silence to reduce exam stress

don'tdisturb1The number of young people ringing the counselling service ChildLine for help with exam stress has risen by 200%.

That’s an awful lot of YPs buckling under the strain of coping with exams. Some of their anxieties can be eased by practical means, and there is loads of information available about planning and revising and the importance of taking breaks and exercising and having a healthy diet.

But with many students, the fear of failure, of not being good enough, of letting people down is a constant nagging at the back of their mind, a pressure, it seems, that all your care and concern can do nothing to ease.

The helplines are probably busy because kids want to talk about their feelings to someone who will listen, someone who doesn’t know them and with whom they have no shared history.

It’s hard to accept they choose this route rather than talking to us. But then you think about how every conversation about exams ends in an argument or in silence, and how everything you say seems to be wrong, and you think, well, perhaps I should just communicate by phoning them or texting them in their bedroom, but then, I’d probably get that wrong too, one too few or one too many xxx’s…

It’s tough for parents too

If it’s tough for YPs, it’s just as tough for parents.

Try not talking. It’s so difficult, when you want to advise and reassure, but this is one of those times when it’s good to set aside your own needs and focus on your student.

Find ways of giving them the space and opportunity to say whatever is on their mind without relating it to yourself.

Here are three ways in which saying less can help stressful situations:

Become a listener

  • Listen to the words and the tone. Observe the body language. Tune in to the feelings behind the words.
  • Show you have ‘heard’ by giving a very brief response, such as:

You sound worried.

So you think you messed up the paper.

I can see that you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Don’t rush in to reassure or to offer a solution. Accept and understand their feelings. There will be a point at which you can help, but you need to get the timing right.

Create opportunities

People will speak when they are ready to. Worries and concerns are suddenly blurted out, a casual comment or question results in an unexpected outpouring.

You can’t plan for this, or set it up. If someone feels they are going to be put under pressure to talk about themselves, they may well clam up.

Let’s face it, since when have the words ‘we need to talk’ ever been followed by something good?

Your YP may open up in the most unexpected circumstances. Make opportunities to be together in a normal, everyday way. Of course, they might think it’s funny that you are asking them to come along when you go to the shops or do a school or station run, but you never know, little breaks in their routine may seem appealing, and they may welcome a chance to say what’s on their mind in a situation where the focus isn’t relentlessly on them.

Incidentally, driving together is good. Something about the lack of eye contact, movement and changing scenery make sit easy to talk.

Do something, don’t talk

Resist the urge to point the benefits of your good suggestions.

Don’t bang on again about notes and revision cards — how many times, we hear weary dedicated teachers sigh — but leave nice pens and markers and brightly coloured index cards in their workspace. Oh, and those pads of stickers…

Don’t say

Why aren’t you using those things I bought you?

Don’t say

I’m pleased you’re using those cards! Do you find them helpful?

Don’t say

You’re worried they aren’t eating properly, but make ‘healthy’ food available in tempting formats. And all those tricks you had to sneak vegetables and green stuff into their meals? Try them again.They may or may not make a difference, but in any case you will feel better.

Don’t say

Eating pizza all the time isn’t doing your brain any good.

Don’t say

I’m so pleased to see that you ate the salad!

You might also find these posts about exam stress useful:

parentsandteenager1Don’t fall prey to the pressure of being a parent in exam season

Have a Plan B to beat exam stress