Parenting Limerick: Tackling exam worries

Parenting: Tackling exam worries

Exam season can be physically, mentally, and emotionally energy zapping

ALTHOUGH students this year have the option of accredited grades, most have opted to sit the Leaving Certificate exams. Even if they have not, assessments have been happening in schools for all students to inform teachers in estimating grades.

Many students have underlying worries approaching their exams, regardless of their academic capabilities. No matter how big or small, all exam worries can affect a student’s exam performance and overall well-being.

These worries can also appear in various disguises including lashing out, negative self-talk, unexplained physical ailments, or going from a diligent to an indifferent student overnight. For parents, exam season can be difficult to navigate and cultivates a mixed sense of protectiveness and powerlessness.

However, a parent’s support during exam season is imperative.

Emphatically listening to your child’s worries without dismissing any (no matter how irrational they seem) can help ease much stress. This non-judgmental listening ear gives your child the opportunity to express their underlying worries in a healthy way.

Try opening up conversations when you are shoulder-to-shoulder rather than face-to-face to help them feel more comfortable and less exposed or interrogated. They may not want to share their worries with you immediately, but will know that you are willing to listen when they are ready.

Under the pressures that accompany exams, thought patterns can often go askew and lead to irrational thoughts predicting worst-case scenarios or backing an “all or nothing” mindset. As parents witnessing this you can take the role of acknowledging the thoughts of your child while also letting them know that you believe the opposite to be true.

Remind your child of how strong they are and help them recall a time or situation when they came through, managed, survived a similarly anxious time. This will help support your child in coming up with a more balanced way of thinking.

During exam time, there is an apparent shift in values. Many children will begin to measure their own self-worth on exam performance, or by comparing themselves to siblings, peers, or others around them. As a parent, remind your child of their individual intrinsic qualities, which truly represent who they are (caring, humorous, creative, etc.) and avoid adding to the comparison dialogue with examples of how well others handled a similar experience.

Most importantly, let your child know that no matter what the outcome, you will be able to deal with it together and that you accept them regardless of their academic achievements.

Exam season can be physically, mentally, and emotionally energy zapping, with study demands often placing a healthy lifestyle balance by the wayside. However, maintaining a healthy balance will benefit your child hugely. Keeping a balanced diet, drinking enough water, engaging in regular physical activity, getting a good night’s sleep and preserving time for enjoyable interests is essential.

Now, before the exam stress commences, is also an ideal time to encourage your child to begin practicing some relaxation techniques or mindfulness exercises.

Practicing these skills now will allow your child to readily draw on them as a healthy coping mechanism during unhelpful exam stress. A healthy level of stress naturally improves motivation and exam focus, and all of the above will help keep these stress levels at this optimal level.

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This article was written by HSE Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Services, a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations. For more information on this and other topics go to loveparenting.ie.

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