Exam time – how you can help your children

Having fun like these two can seem a long way off, especially as exam time looms. Wendy shares some useful strategies to help you help your children stay calm and positive during this time.

Exam time is that time of year where many children and teenagers are worried and anxious because they have exams coming up. Teachers start to mention dates and revision timetables. Parents start asking questions about whether they are doing enough work. Suddenly, GCSE’s are becoming a reality and it seems to take them by surprise.

As adults we can say from experience that this ‘exam time’ will come and go. Results day will have been and gone, and life goes on. But for the students it can be a stressful and difficult time.
The good news is that we don’t have to sit back and watch them worry and panic, we can help them to think more powerfully and take control over these sometimes irrational thoughts.

A lot of the anxiety around exam time comes from irrational worry:

  • Worry about failing
  • Worry they might let their parents down
  • Worry about not having enough time to do all the required revision
  • Worry about messing up in the exam
  • Worry that others will do better than them
  • And much more…

Emotional health workshops in schools

As part of my coaching business I run emotional well-being and resilience workshops in schools. Teachers I have spoken to have said that children tend to panic together and feel like they have no control over their emotions. The negative, powerless and stressful emotions they are feeling grow and grow as they worry together. Most importantly, these feelings of anxiety can play a huge part in how well or badly they do during exam time.

I have noticed from my own daughter that she is fine one minute and then suddenly she feels overwhelmed by the task. Sometimes it is when she has been talking to her friends online and together they build the situation into a monster that they feel they have no control over. During these moments, I help her to take control of these thoughts by talking about them and rationalising them.

Simple thinking strategies to calm the worry

I am very passionate about working with teenagers and helping them to calm their thoughts way before panic sets in. Therefore, I would like to share a few strategies below:

1) Take control of time

Show your children how to break a task down from the daunting nine subjects over two years into bite size chunks. Work out how much time they have in front of them and how they can spread it out evenly. Explain they have control over how they spend their time and they can divide it up into a manageable timetable. As a result, their thinking will become more positive and powerful because they know what is ahead of them. They can take control if they want to.

2) Rationalise and put into perspective

Discuss the future and how good they will feel when they have done their best. Nothing comes without work, and they may have to sacrifice some online time and social time but only for a short period. In the big scheme of their whole life, can they do this? Can you help them put these days into perspective over a life time and ask them to sacrifice some hours of online time? Can they take responsibility for the use of their time?

A powerful exercise is to ask them to dream about the day after their last exam. How relieved and happy they will be having given it their best shot. Consequently they might need reminding and encouraging a lot to think like this but to keep talking positively and proactively is vital in helping them to keep calm and motivated.

3) Celebrate every achievement

Encourage them to celebrate their revision achievements. Instead of reminding themselves of how much more they have to do, celebrate how much they have done. Amazingly this encourages them to do more. Success leads to success. My daughter put all of her revision on a white board with the hours required next to the subjects which were also broken down. Every time she completed an hour she erased a topic with a great sigh of relief and a big vocal “YES”. The board becomes whiter and whiter as she puts in the time! This celebration is vital in keeping her motivated and confident but also calm because she is taking control.

4) Try not to let your friends ‘rev up’ the worry

This point I cannot stress enough. Children seem to rev each up with the fear, anxiety and dread of what might happen. Many teachers I talk to when I work in schools say it is a big problem when students share their irrational thoughts and fears with each other. All this negative conversation rubs off on each other and before you know it you have a full classroom of panicking students. This is also the case with social media and online friendship groups, it is very easy for one person’s fears to be transferred onto a whole group.

Stay close and keep talking

Rationalising our thoughts is difficult for most adults and is something that takes practice and perseverance. If we can try and be there to help our children do this, they stand a much better chance of staying calm and happy during exam time.