Exams — a necessary but rarely enjoyed part of every teenager’s life, the world over.
No matter what exam your child is taking, getting a good result that reflects their hard work is a priority for them, and you.
Students in a British curriculum school in Dubai will be taking multiple GCSE or GCE A-Level examinations, all of which are rigorous and demanding. And, just like these students, your child will be dealing with similar demands and mentally stressful exercises.
However, good exam results can unlock the next step in their education or open up exciting academic opportunities. The unpleasant side of this is, of course, the stress and the fear of disappointment in case things don’t turn out as planned.
Teens can struggle enormously with exam pressure.
For them, the pressure seems to come from all angles: not only will the next stage of their education hang in the balance with these exams, they may desperately want to avoid disappointing teachers and you, their parents. They may also have high-achieving and competitive friends to deal with.
It’s also a first true test of their independence.
When they walk into the exam hall, they’ll be alone. When they’ve had the practical support of their parents and teachers up until this point, exam days can feel suddenly daunting for many teenagers.
This can make parents feel helpless, too. However, although you can’t be by their side in the exam, there are some very practical and extremely valuable steps you can take to help your teen cope with exam stress, and perhaps even get the best results.
1. Think, act and speak positively
This is the golden rule: don’t do or say anything that may unnecessarily add to the pressure. Your child will already be well aware of any practical consequences that come with disappointing results. They’ll also be desperate to achieve for their own satisfaction, and to make you proud.
What they need from you most at this time is your support and kindness. If they come to you for advice or help, make suggestions. Avoid phrasing these suggestions as criticisms, however. Try to avoid criticising their revision style or routine, for instance, and offer alternative methods as ideas, not rules.
2. Keep a calm and consistent home life
Your teenager will certainly be doing some or all of their revisions at home. For it to be a suitable working environment, home needs to be a calm, positive and organised place. Provide a quiet, undisturbed area of the house for your child to work.
Avoid last-minute exam timetable panics by keeping the family calendar updated and checking it regularly.
However, it’s also important to try to keep home life normal and routine as any sudden, solemn change in atmosphere may add to your teen’s stress.
Avoiding too many overnight visitors, big parties and home renovation work would be sensible during exam season; otherwise, life should go on as usual for all family members.
3. Encourage normal day-to-day routine
Similarly, life should be as normal as possible for your teen.
Although your child will be quite absorbed in their exam revisions, he or she needs to take some time out. Working too hard can be counterproductive, as he or she may begin to suffer from exhaustion or greater stress levels.
Encourage your teen to resume normal recreational activities as these can help counteract pressure by taking their mind off exams for a few hours.
Artistic, creative and sporting activities can all help reduce stress. Spending time relaxing and laughing with friends and family is beneficial, too.
Try to ensure your child goes to bed at a decent hour, too, and gets the required hours of sleep.
4. Provide healthy snacks and meals
Stress can affect appetite so if your teenager is eating a little less at meal times, that’s fairly normal. Provide plenty of small, healthy snacks for energy.
Hydration is crucial for brain function as well, so encourage him or her to drink lots of water. Gently remind your teen, if necessary, to avoid caffeinated and sugary drinks as these can cause energy slumps.
5. Listen and encourage communication
Exam season can involve a rollercoaster of emotions for your teen. He or she may switch rapidly between anxiety and confidence, last-minute panic, relief and despair.
Avoid conflict as much as possible during this time, compromise when needed, and try to overlook small irritations.
Make sure your teenager knows you are there to listen when needed. If they are suffering from stress, talking their problems through will help.
Remember that some people may open up more if they don’t feel as if they are being grilled. Chatting in the car, or while walking along side by side during a stroll can feel less intimidating than having a face to face chat in your living room or study.
Finally, exam season can be a tough time for families, particularly for hardworking teenagers.
If you’ve been providing support and encouragement, but your child is struggling with everyday life such as eating, sleeping and maintaining relationships, then consider seeking further advice from your child’s teachers, school counsellor, or your family doctor.