It’s exam season: SATs and GCSEs are already under way, and A-levels are just around the corner. Time for bitten nails, sleepless nights, mind going blank with panic. And that’s just the parents!
Joking aside, exam time can be one of the most stressful periods in a family household. There can be so much pressure on kids to perform well, even from such a young age. That pressure can cause stress, overwhelming emotions, tantrums and falling out with siblings and parents. In short, kids can experience all forms of anxieties as their performance and talents are put to the test.
So, how do you dial down the pressure and create an environment where exams are ‘normalised’ and don’t become something that feels like life or death?
Don’t pile any more pressure on the kids yourself.
Children can pick up on your anxieties and may tie themselves in knots trying to please you. It may be that you did well at school and you want your children to prove they can live up to your high standards. Or it could be the other way round: maybe you didn’t have the opportunities at school, and you want your kids to do far better than you did. Either way, your job right now is to be strong and grounded. You need to provide a safe place for the children to come home to after they’ve chewed the ends of their pencils, and to make it OK for them to achieve results they want and need in their own time and their own way.
Get your children to express their anxieties.
For younger children, this could be drawing a picture of how they feel in the exam room, painting a canvas of what it feels like to be successful, or designing a certificate where they’ve passed. For older children, this could simply be writing down their anxious feelings in a diary or journal, or a piece of paper they can throw away. Research shows writing down your anxiety can leave more room in the brain for the answers to flow when in the examination hall. Exploring these activities in a family therapy session can support your child or teenager’s anxiety around exam time and give them tangible skills to support in managing anxiety.
Have some switch-off time.
Make time for the children to play games, run around, lose the anxious energy, and engage with being a child again. Exams don’t run 24 hours a day, so make that time off count. Distraction can work incredibly well as a coping mechanism for anxious thoughts and feelings. The more unusual and creative the distraction, the better.
Our team of experienced and professional child and adolescent therapists can offer more tips, support, advice and test-management techniques if you feel you would like additional support to cope with the exam season. Call 020 8673 4545 to discuss your family’s needs and to book an appointment.