We have come to the time of year when many young people are facing exams or tests at school, with varying degrees of importance and significance for their future. For some, this will be the stepping stone to the next part of the educational journey, and for all it’s likely to be a pressured and overwhelming time.
At Fegans, we work with a lot of young children experiencing stress and anxiety, and it’s particularly heightened at this time of year with performance-related concern as they face this educational test, which often feels like a test of who they are. Yes, their behaviour may suffer during a stress peak, but it’s important to do what you can to respond from calmness, and to invite them to join you in feeling calm, rather than you joining them in emotional chaos.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to support your children at this time:
Keep it in perspective – Yes, of course exams are important. But everyone involved needs to remember it’s not the end of the world if there’s a hiccup, and that there’s almost always another chance.
Help manage their expectations – Working every waking minute of the day, or expecting grades significantly higher than their capabilities, could well be detrimental to their emotional and mental well-being.
Encourage good work habits – Research has shown that working from between 35–45 minutes at a time is the optimum length of time for concentration, and then needs to be balanced by a short 10–15 minute break. Stepping away from screens, getting some fresh air, stretching their legs, and having a hydration break will all be useful ways to increase their work efficiency, and general well-being.
Remember the building blocks – Again, when it comes to the real basics, our children (and us) can forget the vital need for our emotional well-being building blocks. Make sure that your child is getting enough good food, enough water, and enough sleep.
Avoid stimulants – We often see a rise in the use of energy drinks, caffeine tablets, and other stimulants at this time of year. However, this can have a counterproductive effect on studying, as it can interrupt their concentration and energy levels, and also inhibit sleep; not to mention their digestive health (and feeling uncomfortable during revision and exams is definitely not helpful).
Free time isn’t laziness – It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s important to remember that they need to build in free time; structured studying has to be balanced with unstructured free time. A useful analogy to share with them is that human beings are basically machines. We need fuel, and we also need to switch our engine off every now and again. Otherwise, we risk overheating. On any long-term journey in a machine, comfort breaks and fuel fill ups would be an accepted and necessary part of the journey. Humans are no different.
Make time for your own self-care – You can’t pour from an empty cup. Your children need more from you at this time, for sure, but to be able to give more, you need to be able to have more fuel in the tank.
Connection is important – When possible, also find ways to invite them into the family social life; perhaps, watching a film one night with popcorn, or going for a family walk, or a coffee break together. Or how about all going out for dinner? Don’t just save the treats for the results, as this reinforces that they have more value when they achieve more. Let them know that their well-being and enjoyment of life is still important when they’re striving for success, as well as when they’re achieving it.
For more parenting advice on stress and mental health, head over to Fegans.