With SATS and GCSEs looming, many parents worry about how they can best support their child through what can be a difficult and stressful time. Child psychologist Amy Wood-Mitchell has helped us put together some guidance on what you can do and signs to be aware of.
Understand your child’s learning style
Some children can study for a couple of hours uninterrupted and some are only able to focus for a few minutes at a time, even within the same age range. Understand what works best for your child and accept that siblings may be different in this respect. Some children are motivated by long-term success or good grades, and some just want to get finished so they can go out and play. Intervene when necessary to provide motivation, but give your child space to study using their preferred method.
Talk to your child
Listen to your child, give support and avoid criticism. Make sure they know that failing isn’t the end of the world, and that exams are only one measure of success. Spending too much time talking about upcoming tests can send the message that a child’s worth is measured in terms of grades and scores. Make sure your child knows that you only expect them to do the best they can, and praise them for their efforts in other areas too. Before an exam, tell your child that feeling nervous is normal and a natural reaction to situations such as exams. Remind them of the time they have spent studying and what they do know, and talk about areas you know they are more confident in. After the exam, talk it over and move on to the next one, and don’t dwell on anything that went badly and can’t be changed.
To bribe or not to bribe?
Some children are offered cash or other rewards to achieve good grades. The problem with bribery is that it implies that these are the only worthwhile rewards for hard work and study time. Negative messages like these can affect your child’s sense of self-worth. Motivate them to do their best for their own sake and not just to get rewards or to please you. Remind them that tests and exams are a gateway to another Key Stage or to GCSEs, A levels, or university. Good results are the best reward, along with pride in their achievements.
Get a good night’s sleep
A good night’s sleep will help your child with concentration. Children and teenagers need different amounts of sleep depending on their age – the NHS provides a guide to the amounts here. Allow at least thirty minutes of ‘winding down’ time before bedtime with no TV, computer or iPad screens. Encourage your child to read a book or chat to you about something other than the test or exam the next day. Cramming the night before is not going to help, and restful sleep is more beneficial than last-minute study.
Eat the right foods
Too many high-fat foods, sugary snacks and highly-caffeinated drinks can make children hyperactive and moody. Try to pay particular attention to your child’s diet at exam time and cook balanced meals containing protein. Avoid fizzy drinks and too much juice, and keep the fridge stocked with healthy snacks. Eating regular proper meals will help keep the body and mind functioning at its best.
Create the right environment
Make sure your child has a calm and quiet area to study with as few distractions as possible, preferably with a source of fresh air and natural daylight. Ask other members of the family to respect the need for calm and quiet during this time.
Exercise can boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. See therapist Karolina Gburczyk’s blog post How To Help Your Kids Relax for some great breathing, relaxation and visualisation techniques to help with stress and anxiety.
Signs of stress – what to look out for
When a person is stressed their body reacts accordingly. A child experiencing chronic exam stress without adequate support may go on to develop serious long-term issues such as digestive problems, autoimmune diseases, and eczema, as well as mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Stress responses can differ between boys and girls, with girls tending to present internal symptoms such as nausea, butterflies, and feelings of inadequacy, and boys tending to externalise their anxiety, easily becoming irritable or angry. Other symptoms of stress include:
Negative self-talk, blaming
Unusually fast or irregular heartbeat
Chest pains, shortness of breath
Constipation or diarrhea
If you think your child is suffering from exam stress and you need help to support them, please call our therapy team in confidence on 0208 6737930 to see how we can help.