Exam stress: Tips on how to help your child keep calm during exam time

Exam stress can be difficult to deal with – especially for the half a million 11-year-old's who take their SATs tests every year, their first major exams.

But while parents may understand that the results are more to judge the school than the child, pupils are still likely to feel pressure to achieve good results, which leaves many of them suffering from exam stress.

However, some schools understand that the SATs are not the be all and end all in determining your child’s future and have taken steps to reduce the amount of stress children feel.

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One such school, All Saint’s School in Blackheath, introduced a different kind of ‘homework’ for their pupils ahead of SATs week, which included ‘eating some Haribo’ and ‘laugh until your tummy hurts’.

Mum and journalist Jane Martinson shared a picture of the ‘homework’ on Twitter, praising the school for their unique take on relieving exam stress and pressure.

Another mum shared her sweet remedy for helping her daughter cope with her exams on Facebook, sharing an image of matching pink kisses on her and her daughter’s hands.

She said: ‘SATs for the biggest one this week. She’s bright as a button but can be a bit hard on herself so…I got a Sharpie and drew a matching kiss on each of our hands.

‘If she gets a bit worried and needs her Mummy? She can look at her pink kiss and know that I’m thinking about her too.

‘Side-note when we hold hands the kisses touch. I am aware that all of this is ridiculously cheesy and OTT. But sometimes a Mummy’s gotta do what a Mummy’s gotta do’.

How to spot if your child is suffering from exam stress

According to NHS Choices, there are certain signs to look out for to see if your child is suffering from stress. These include not enjoying activities they previously enjoyed, a loss of interest in food or eating more than normal, trouble sleeping and negative or low moods.

‘As a parent you can really help your children through this time, just by being there for them and encouraging them to talk about their feelings and fears,’ advises Family Lives.

‘Arrange some downtime for them in between the exams so they can fully recharge before the next exam. Having some balance is very important and can help them manage their stress and anxiety levels.’

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How to help your children with stress management

If you are worried about your child’s mental health during exam week or at any other time, there are ways that parents can help to keep their child calm.

Make sure you talk about their exam stress and nerves

Be calm, positive and reassuring and put the whole thing into perspective. ‘A simple conversation can help children to acknowledge what they’re struggling with and how it makes them feel’, Place2Be, a national children’s mental health charity, advises.

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Remind your child that feeling anxious is normal. Nervousness is a natural reaction to exams. The key is to put these nerves to positive use. You can even explain times that you have felt stressed or worried and give them examples of how you overcame your fears.

Help your child to study

Make sure they have a comfortable place to work and study which is quiet. Ask them how you can best support them with their revision and establish a routine by re-arranging the family’s schedules and priorities that works for them.

‘Ask them how you can best support them with their revision,’ NHS Choices advises. ‘Help them to come up with practical ideas that will help them revise, such as drawing up a revision schedule or getting hold of past papers for practice.’

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Make sure your child eats well

A balanced diet is vital for your child’s health, and can help them to feel well during exam periods. But a small treat, whether that be their favourite meal or letting them choose their own breakfast for the week is also a great way to help them to look forward to something and take some pressure off their exams.

Encourage exercise during exams

‘Exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. It doesn’t matter what it is – walking, cycling, swimming, football and dancing are all effective,’ NHS Choices advises. Try and find a fun physical activity that you can do with your child or if they are involved in school clubs or sports, encourage them to continue with this during exam week.

Don’t add to the pressure

It’s normal for parents to want the best for their children, but you may be adding to the pressure they’re already feeling without even realising it. According to NHS Choices, lots of the children who contact Childline feel that most pressure at exam time comes from their family. ‘Before your child goes in for a test or exam, be reassuring and positive,’ they advise. ‘Let them know that failing isn’t the end of the world. If things don’t go well they may be able to take the exam again. Talk about the parts that went well rather than focusing on the questions they had difficulties with. Then move on, rather than dwelling on things that can’t be changed.’