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Exam Stress on Students

Tools to overcome the stress of exams

Time flies when we’re having fun and before we know it, the terms almost over and the exams begin to rear their ugly heads! At this time, many students may feel a sense of dread or anxiety, because with exams comes a lot of pressure and absolutely no fun and games. Parents may also feel the same way following a somewhat relaxed and smooth semester. With increased pressure, and academic demands, exam time is bound to get very stressful. However, with a little preparation and understanding of what to expect, parents can help their children cope with exam-time easily. Here are 5 tips to get you started:

Create Routines

When your child’s environment is disorganised or lacks structure, stress and anxiety tend to increase because nothing is predictable and no one knows what to expect. Create a routine that includes the basic building blocks of physical health – regular sleep, meals and exercise. Next, build in P.O.D (Play, Others, Downtime) into their schedules instead of just packing it with academic activities. Having a purposeful schedule at home can act as a guide and give some sense of order to reduce anxiety. When your child is healthy and relaxed, she will be more likely to do well during her examinations.

Watch for Warning Signs of Stress

According to Dr. Shimi Kang, children do not usually tell parents that they are stressed. However, they may act up by displaying physical and mental signs, consciously or unconsciously. These signs can include complaints of headaches, tummy aches, tiredness, distractibility, irritability, crying spells and general unwellness. When this happens, parents ought to investigate to see if the complaint is a manifestation of stress or not. Dr. Kang also added that it is important to recognise the child’s feelings and behaviour and help the child discuss what’s happening and why, which brings us to our next point.

Empathise First, Then Problem-Solve

Before jumping into advice-giving, pause to listen to your child’s concerns.
Ask yourself, “What is she worried about?” Why does she expect that to happen?” Hold yourself back from judging and let your child share about what’s on her mind. When you can understand your child’s troubles, develop a coping plan with them. When children are stressed, they doubt their ability to cope. Address what’s bothering them by brainstorming together and creating an actionable plan with concrete solutions. Think about worst case scenarios together and coach your child on how to cope and analyse both real and imagined stressful situations.

Use Positive Coping Statements

Teach and encourage your child to master the power of positive self-talk. Studies have shown that positive coping statements can help us cope through stressful moments. When your child is able to use positive words to lift themselves up, they become their own personal motivational coach. Make this a fun activity by creating “Coping Cards” with your child. Ask them to write down a variety of positive coping statements to help them through the difficult times of exam preparation. They can carry it in their pocket or bag to help remind themselves.

Below are some examples of coping statements:

  • Stop, and breathe, I can do this
  • This will pass
  • I can be anxious/angry/sad and still deal with this
  • I have done this before, and I can do it again
  • I’m stronger than I think
  • I will learn from this experience, even if it seems hard to understand right now
  • This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it is only temporary
  • I choose to see this challenge as an opportunity
  • I can learn from this and it will be easier next time
  • Keep calm and carry on

Communicate with the School

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is usually one of the most commonly overlooked ways to manage stress. Speak with your child’s teachers, principal and other relevant school staff about your concerns and ask if they can assist in any way possible. Before doing so, it is important to ask your child for her opinion because some children may be self-conscious and so it is necessary to talk to your child about your intentions first. If you think that you have applied every technique possible and still find yourself at wits’ end, working with the school counsellor to discuss more alternatives may be useful. Besides, counsellors can also help you identify an underlying mental health disorder, that may need professional help in order to get treated.

Having exams just around the corner can be overwhelming and it is normal for our child to have some worries and concerns. However, it is important for them to attend school regularly and learn to face their fears head on. Not doing so will only increase stress and anxiety because in not doing so, your child is avoiding her worries and not taking the opportunity to problem-solve them. Model proactiveness as a parent and teach your child life-long lessons of resilience and adaptability!

Storytelling-Narrative Play

Besides improving children’s sense of well-being and self-identity, storytelling plays an essential role to children in understanding their environment. Through listening to stories, they learn to understand the differences to others’ feelings, culture, backgrounds, and experiences. When children can create their own stories, they also show better divergent thinking. Try coming up with a beginning of a story and let your child think and explore as much as they can. If they get stuck or repetitive, suggest one or two ideas on what can happen next.

Creative Play

Children start developing their creativity in role-playing and pretend play, and when they do, they are able to imagine new ways or ideas about doing things that can add function and progress to lives in future. When you are with your child, stimulate creative ideas by encouraging them to come up with new and unusual uses of everyday items, art materials or toys. Try to remain open and curious to new and original ideas, and encourage children to come up with more than one solution or answer.

Play is in the Everyday

Play offers connection, bonding, and co-operation. Opportunities for play can happen everyday with common daily activities. The quality of time spent with your child is the factor that makes a difference. As Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parenting puts it, you need to be “tuned in” to your child’s needs and wants. Give your child your full attention and follow their lead by letting them direct and control the pace of the play. Relax and have fun while being in the moment with them. Whether it’s baking cookies together, or washing a car, it’s the spirit of playfulness that we bring to daily activities that turns the mundane into play.