I picked up the phone too early for the morning time and heard these words from my almost hysterical student. I had helped her prepare for finals before. You might guess why she called me but didn’t ask her parents to help with that overwhelming anxiety.
First, I was only a couple of years older than my student and she could trust me with her fears as she could a friend. Second, I knew her parents and their attitude on the child’s academic performance: “We work 12 hours a day to pay for her college and we are not ok with that B grade!” or “Our child should be only an A student whatever it takes”. It’s a common situation for most children who suffer from pressure at home and at school.
The girl I mentioned previously made an effort to overcome her fear and exam stress. She passed her exams successfully and entered the college of her parents’ dreams. However, not every child possesses that courage to survive and succeed under exam stress.
The approach of pressuring a child is too harmful to the health. The American Psychological Association suggests that stress can lead to chronic headaches, heart attacks, coronary disease, arrhythmia, and even sudden changes in a body through overeating or malnutrition and forming of bad habits.
How to Detect Exam Stress in Your Child?
Stress is a natural response of our nervous system to a threat or demand. An exam provokes a fear to fail and disappoint parents. Adults use stress factors to become more concentrated, alert and ready to meet challenges at work. But for untrained children, stress is a kind of pain that makes them:
- Sad, frustrated and irritated
- Already tired in the morning
- Sleepless and moody
- Silent with sudden bursts of crying or yelling
- Sulky and not confident
- Always complaining
- Worried and helpless
And when a child can’t cope with pressure, he or she faces:
- Lack of enthusiasm and interest
- Pain in muscles, backache, stomachache, headache
- Poor eating habits
- Frequent sicknesses and infections.
I knew some teenagers who started smoking and even drinking before their finals. The thing is that children are not used to dealing with stress as an incentive to buck up and fight. This burden is too heavy for a child to carry alone and age doesn’t make it easier.
What Exactly Should Parents Do?
Scientists have created an amazing number of high-tech devices, but there is not a universal formula for helping children under exam stress. I suppose parents must discover this formula on their own, because if they take no actions, their child might appear in ChildLine service’s statistics. And it showed that the number of children who suffered from exam stress and anxiety over studying increased to 200% in 2013-2014. It means that children look for support among other people when they are deprived of it at home.
Working as a teacher, I’ve noticed that exam stress for most of the parents is less scary than no food in a fridge or a lost iPhone. Some parents consider exam stress as a natural factor for a child to become more mature. But it is too much for a child who has been told what to do, to wear, to eat and when to go to bed all his life. So, why do we leave a child alone with such a big and serious issue if we’ve been so anxious about each trifle thing before?
If you are a caring parent who understands the importance of support for your child during exam preparation, then you might be looking for these proven methods for overcoming exam stress.
- Do not expect too much of your child
Children who silently suffer from stress are afraid to share their fears with the closest people because it would mean they can’t meet the high expectations of their parents. However, do not lie that you could care less because a child knows that his or her academic performance has always been a big deal. It is better to speak out about what you really expect from your child than lowering the level of your expectations. In this case, it won’t hurt the result because if you say “You know, kid, I’ll be ok with your B or C, just don’t get too nervous”, a child would put more efforts to surpass this level. Of course, it won’t ease the pressure, but a child would not feel guilty and depressed.
- Use Weight Training and Cardio Exercises to Boost Your Child’s Brainpower
According to a 2012 study conducted by the University of British Columbia, weight training and a special set of cardio exercises positively influence cognitive and executive functions of the brain. If the words “cognitive” and “executive” are new to you, here are some abilities they include: perception, attention, memory, motor skills, visual and spatial processing, decision-making, problem-solving etc. Hence, if you want a child to stay energetic and strong, begin jogging in the morning together or go to the gym after a couple of hours of cramming. Besides, exercising is useful for both of you: a student stimulates the brain functions and you support your kid this way and get in perfect shape.
- Find a set of useful tools that improve revision
Most likely, your child is already using some working tools such as Evernote to store and organize information or Profprofs to create memorizing flashcards. However, you can also recommend the GetRevising tool that makes a schedule for revision, and offers free mind maps and notes. You can also advise your child a StudentShare database of essays and other assignment samples. This tool can enhance your child’s writing skills. Some students suffer from their inability to plan and manage their revision time. Therefore, if you see that your child spends too much time on organization process, offer him to launch the Todoist app which helps to create easy to-do lists and reminds about completing another task.
- Provide extra practicing with online courses or a special tutor help
The best way to overcome exam stress is to prepare for the worst outcome. And in this case a perfect weapon would be practicing via online courses or using the tutor’s help. For online practicing your child can use a special online service 4Tests to prepare on his own to such exams as GED, ACT, SAT, ASVAB and other educational, professional (Accounting, Legal etc.), computer (MCSE, Visual Studio) exams. You can also hire a professional tutor who will help your child concentrate on the particular material and turn his weak points into strengths. Here is a test preparation service S.M.A.R.T. Tutoring where you can choose a private tutor for your child and ensure that he or she gets some professional assistance.
- Offer your child to make a break and go for a walk in the park
If a child complains that it’s hard to focus on revising the material, suggest taking a walk with you or a friend in a park. A psychological study called The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature suggested that strolling in a natural environment helps restore attention and revive mental resources. It compared two groups of people who walked in different green spaces (parks and forests) and along some city streets. Those students who spend time in the arboretum showed better results on their memory tests. Hence, one refreshing walk can help your child calm down and regain strength to continue revising.
You can find out other proven methods on how to deal with exam stress or use small talk as the main tool to support your child. Of course, you know better when it comes to what your kid needs. But do not let your child handle it on their own, because they need to learn how to overcome stress with the help of an experienced mentor.
Veronica Hunt is an ed tech expert and an experienced content marketer from Philadelphia. As a blogger, she sees her purpose in providing her readers with up-to-date info in the spheres of parenting, education and psychology. Apart from work, she adores traveling and yoga. Follow @VeronicaHuntt or find her on Facebook.