Supporting your child through their exams

May 09, 2016 Rachael C

It's easy to get caught up in exam anxiety, here are a few ways to help your child do their best and keep you both sane!

Exam season is here! The performance expectations placed on students seems to intensify every year... along with them placing pressure on parents. It is well known that excessively high cortisol levels (the stress hormone) can actually lead to poor performance in exams and strange behaviour at home. So what can you do to help your child succeed in our stress fueled culture? In short, remember that they are likely far more stressed than you are (yes, even if they don't seem bothered) and take steps to create a supportive environment in which they can strive. Just making the time to read this article shows you are a caring and concerned parent, so you are off to a good start! Here are a few tips to transform exams from something to fear into an opportunity to shine.

Make and stick to a schedule

Consistency is better than flair. Encourage regular revision sessions rather than reliance on last minute cramming. It may help to work with your child in creating a simple timetable, breaking each day into manageable slots and assigning subjects to each slot according to how prepared your child is for that area. Balance is key here. As tempting as it may be to push your child to cram in 10 hour study sessions, there is a danger that too much studying will cause them to burn out. Ensure that you encourage regular breaks and reward study time with relaxation and treats.

Encourage sleep

One of the most helpful things you can do is help your child to establish a healthy sleep pattern. Even an 18-year-old can benefit from a regular bed time reminder and wake up nudge to ensure they are getting around 8 hours of sleep each night. Our brains do amazing things when we are asleep and a refreshed body and mind will perform better than one with a sleep-debt caused by all nighters and cramming sessions. 

Keep healthy food flowing

Your child is unlikely to get top grades on a diet of McDonalds and crunchy bars. Equally, exam season is NOT the time for a fad diet with reduced calories or food group restrictions. Make sure your house is stocked with healthy foods - you could even try making healthy smoothies and snacks together as a fun revision break activity. The brain works best when well fueled with a balanced diet containing: complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, brown bread, brown rice and wholewheat pasta; fruit and vegetables; proteins such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat; and unsaturated fats such as those found in nuts, avocado, flax seed and coconut oil. Fats are often viewed incorrectly viewed as unhealthy yet these are key sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are essential for brain health. Oily fish, avocados, flax seed, walnuts and spinach are all great sources for this brain boosting nutrient. 

Make home a haven

Well-meaning teachers, peers and the media can place your child under a great deal of stress: home should be a place where they can unwind after completing their study sessions for the day. You can make your home a safe place to discuss hopes and fears by reminding your child that you will be proud of them as long as they do their best, no matter what the outcome. Reminding your child that you will support them as they give exams their best effort will go a long way in relieving their anxieties and making your house a peaceful and pleasant environment.

Offer help and take an interest

If your child is finding revision tedious then try to make yourself available to introduce variety - something our brains respond well to. Even in a subject you are not familiar with, you can help by testing your child on their flashcards and letting them explain diagrams or mind maps to you. You can also stimulate useful conversation by going for a walk and asking your child what they find interesting in what they are learning/revising. Not only will these conversations reduce your anxiety by involving you in your child's studies, they will also promote active recall of the course materials - one of the most effective elements of exam preperation.

The night before an exam day, ensure that your child has a healthy breakfast available (porridge and a banana is a trusty combination), encourage an early night and check if their bag is prepared. Items to remind your child to pack could include: flash cards for a memory refresher; a clear exam pencil case; a full water bottle; healthy snacks for between exams; and their ID card/exam schedule.

I hope these tips stimulate some great ideas to help you to support your child in doing their best. Good luck!

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