Exam stress for any Leaving or Junior Cert parent is an issue

Stress at exam time

Talking to parents of Leaving Cert and Junior Cert this week, I am hearing of their teens vomiting due to exam pressure, experiencing symptoms similar to panic attacks and parents concerned with state exams pending. The number one tip is this: Your teenager is always more important than an exam, their emotional welfare is of paramount importance. These symptoms of panic will not improve their performance, they will endanger all the work done and the pressure must be reduced.

Stress and Exams

There are thousands of homes with students preparing for Junior and Leaving Certificate right now and here are some tips to keep stress under control and enjoy a calmer home.

A good relationship is No 1

The only control you have over your teen is the strength of your relationship with them. The more you work on relating to them in positive ways, the more influence you have over guiding them in the lead up to exams. You cannot force them to study and even if they are up in their rooms, you have no idea if they are studying or not. Therefore, work instead on encouraging and supporting them in their learning efforts and helping them in any blocks they face.

Mind yourself; so you can keep a calm house!

There are many things you can do to reduce the stress at home during exam time. The most important is to be in a ‘good place’ so you offer them the support they need at this time. Your calmness will have a very positive effect on the atmosphere at home so ensure you do what you need to remain calm and supportive over the coming weeks.

Belief is everything: Encourage  & Belief

Think about a major challenge you have faced: what did you need? That is what your teen needs:

  • Belief: ‘ You can do it’
  • To have your effort acknowledged
  • Encouragement
  • See your potential
  • They may need  to feel understood and listened to

Study Skills: Help them set goals

Talk with them (as opposed to talking ‘to’ them) about how they feel about the exams and ensure they know you are there for them. Talk with them about the importance of setting out a study plan and setting goals. What needs to be done and divide the work in to the time available. Many students are overwhelmed by the volume of work to be done so the earlier this is done the better. How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time, so breaking tasks into manageable chunks is key to feeling you are on top of the work rather than feeling completely overwhelmed.

Junior & Leaving Cert: Set up good routines

  • A study desk with proper lighting in a quiet area/room
  • Homework done straight after school
  • A study schedule for evening/weekend, 2-4 study periods with 5 minute breaks (taken in the room) every 45 minutes and 15 minute breaks (out of the room) every 90 minutes is typical. If studying all day, have lunch at the longer break of 30/45 minutes and incorporate a walk in the fresh air
  • Avail of supervised study if offered by the school during Easter etc.

Exams: Study Routines

  • Be organised with everything you need
  • Decide the block of study, for example: two hours, four subjects, five minutes breaks or fifteen minute break halfway through.

Exam Stress

A little stress (Eustress) can be helpful to motivate you to get started. However, when stress gets out of hand it inhibits our teen’s ability to focus on the work in hand. The best response to stress in the moment is focusing on deep abdominal breathing. In the longer term exercise helps to de stress and helps keep perspective. Instead of things being on top of you feel on top of things! A healthy diet and getting outdoors is also helpful in staying in control of exam stress and helps you to sleep.

Fear of failure

This is often due to feeling anxious about not meeting expectations, or letting you down so ensure that you do not add to that. In the run up to exams, there is a lot of pressure and they do not need any more from you. Fear of failure is very common and unhelpful to our teenagers.

Ensure they know they are loved for themselves, not for what they do

Ensure that your teenager knows they are not ‘an exam result’ and they are loved for themselves, not for what they do. Therefore, if you encounter your teen where they have gone into avoidance or seemed overwhelmed, the approach needs to be ‘Hi honey how are you, I love you’ with no mention of exams. Listen to them and offer support and assure them that their welfare is paramount.

Keep expectations realistic

Keep your expectations realistic and never ever confuse your teenager with their performance and that they need know they are always more important to you than anything else!

Break tasks into manageable chunks

How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time, so the concept of ‘chunking’ is helpful.

A huge task can immobilise us, whereas when we break it down into manageable chunks it is easier. Something we dread is best approached by allocating it ten minutes to see how much we can achieve and it may be less daunting once we begin!

See their effort and learning will continue

What you put out comes back to you (Positive or Negative) and the more you put out, the more you get back so keep telling them what they are doing well and catch them being good!

Parenting the exam student

  • Have the food they like so you ensure they eat
  • Ensure they get adequate sleep
  • Encourage exercise to help relax
  • They are under pressure, so don’t add to it
  • Believe in their intelligence & capability
  • See their effort & believe in their capacity
  • Encourage & praise
  • Negotiate where there are difference between you, if you force a person they will resist you
  • You can’t do the work for them, and this exam is their responsibility
  • Do not personalise what they say or their behaviour, it’s 100% about them, how they are feeling and what they are going through
  • When your child deserves your love the least, they need it the most
  • The most important ‘A’ is an ‘A’ in Emotional Health (there’s a lot going on for our teens)
  • You cannot attend at a ‘head’ level if things are not right at a ‘heart’ level
  • Intelligence & Knowledge are not the same
  • Failure sets the next challenge

Why learning/effort stops

When learning is threatening, a teenager goes into Avoidance, Sickness, and Perfectionism and has a Fear of Failure. Ensure they know they are always more important than the result, this exam is not a prophesy of your future lives. Treat your young person with unconditional love, loving them not for what they do, but who they are. Their intelligence is only one way in which they express their individuality

Tips for Parent

  • Mind yourself; so you can mind them
  • If you are calm, so are they.
  • Allow adequate time if bringing them into exams to reduce stress – get up earlier!
  • Ask what you can do for them to help/support them
  • Rushing and racing results in feeling stressed; and you are not in a good place to parent