Education, from primary to post graduation, has transformed into a highly competitive rat race where everyone wants to emerge as a winner. Grades have become more important than building core capabilities. As a result, every developing mind is subject to the phenomenon of exam stress. And sadly parents, teachers, peers and other stakeholders in the system inadvertently contribute to this stress. What is alarming is that exam stress has come to be accepted as normal, or sometimes even desirable. However, stress can adversely impact a child’s mental and emotional wellbeing. In some cases, the child’s psyche is scarred for life. No wonder cases of suicides and attempted suicides by students are on the rise.
Parents alone can’t change this mindset, which is now firmly ingrained in our educational and social systems. But what they can do is protect their own child. Simple changes in your attitude and behaviour towards your child can considerably affect the way he or she deals with exam stress. Here are some suggestions that might help.
Begin with understanding your child and his capabilities
The first step is to stop measuring your child’s capabilities in terms of the yardstick of society. If your child doesn’t score well, it doesn’t mean he has failed as an individual. He might, and in all likelihood does, have talents that are beyond academics. Shift your focus from academic excellence to the gifts that your child was born with.
Show that you trust your child and they will prove you are right
Most students suffer from “expectation stress” rather than exam stress. Their personal strengths and spirit to grow is weighed down by expectations that their parents/teachers have from them. Such expectations usually stem from the society’s excessive emphasis on academic success. Tell your child that it is absolutely okay if she doesn’t top her exams. It is fine if she is average academically, so long as she excels in building their non-academic potential.
Affirmation and unconditional love
Reassure your kids that the family will always love and support them irrespective of how they perform in their exams. Telling them that “I am sure you will do well in exams” rather than “you better do well in exams” makes a huge difference in their level of self-confidence and gives a positive boost to their efforts.
Children need their space just like adults do. Show that you trust your child and they will prove you are right. Yes, studying for exams is important but not at the cost of your child’s wellbeing. You can help them chalk out a study schedule but do not remind them every waking minute that they need to study.
Let your child take some time off and rejuvenate by indulging in indoor or outdoor games
Be attentive yet flexible in terms of routine
Pay attention to your child’s diet and make sure they are getting enough rest. But do not force them to follow a set diet or sleeping routine. Some children are able to study better during night than day. Understand their needs and comfort areas while providing support.
Create a methodology
Help them plan their studies in a way that it becomes an interesting exercise and easy to comprehend. If the child has to cover two subjects in a day, try clubbing subjects—interesting with boring, easy with difficult, strong with weak. After every hour of studying, let the child have a 10 minute break. This will break the monotony and help your child channel their efforts better.
Encourage play time
Let your child take some time off and rejuvenate by indulging in indoor or outdoor games. Playing sports—physical or mental—refreshes their mind and body and sharpens memory. You could have a “fun hour” where the family spends quality time by doing an activity together. Try interactive and productive activities and not merely watching TV together. You could play a game of housie or a badminton session. This also helps to enhance bonding and relieve stress.
When children study to avoid punishment, they will focus their energies on how not to get punished instead of studying
Relax and help them relax
Teach your child basic breathing exercises before bedtime, early morning and just before exams. This is very effective in avoiding exam-hall panic and helps to increase their concentration level.
Offer rewards, not punishments
Threatening your child with consequences of not studying is a common mistake most parents commit. When children study to avoid punishment, they will focus their energies on how not to get punished instead of studying. An alternate and much better way of encouraging them is to offer meaningful rewards. Do not lure your kids with rewards like money or gadgets. Instead, offer more productive gratification like trying a new adventure sport or extension of playtime that would motivate them to study.
Avoid post exam stress and over-curiosity
Once exams are over, your child needs a breather. Prevent your child from getting obsessed with results and save them from the “what if” questions that they get to hear everywhere they go. Exams should be forgotten about after a brief review about what can be done better next time. Instead of fretting over results, use the waiting period by taking your child for a relaxing holiday or help them explore new hobbies or recreational activities.
Even after these measures, if your child continues to experience stress before, during or after exams, consider seeking professional help. Sometimes children face chronic stress and need clinical intervention. Opt for counselling method that your child is most comfortable with and where he can share his thoughts safely and anonymously. And finally, don’t let this phase get the better of you. To be able to help your child have stress-free exams, you need to maintain your composure and stay cheerful.