Exam season can be an overwhelming, hectic, and stressful time in any household. It doesn’t matter if your child is sitting their very first standardised exam or their last, as parents you’ll want to make sure they remain happy, healthy and confident throughout the next couple of months.
You know your child better than anyone else, but it can be hard to know where to start with supporting them through this time in their lives, especially if they haven’t had much experience with exams before.
There are a few simple things, however, which will be helpful for every child.
1. Encourage healthy habits
We know that a balanced diet is crucial for your child’s health. This is more important than ever during periods of intensive studying, when they might be more inclined to take in more high-sugar and high-caffeine foods like energy drinks and sweet treats. Try to involve your child in shopping for food and preparing it, as well as looking for healthy snacks, as a means of helping them take some time away from the studying stress.
No one can work full pelt all the time. Encourage your child to take breaks from their revision and to treat themselves with an activity they really enjoy. Striking that balance between studying and relaxing is really important, and might be something your child struggles with by themselves.
In a similar vein to taking breaks during their revision, it’s so important to make sure your child gets plenty of rest overnight. What’s more, anxiety can often be at its worst at night, so it is particularly helpful to have a solid bedtime routine in place to enable them to get enough sleep. I’d recommend making sure all electronic devices are switched off, and in some cases even outside of the bedroom, to take away distractions and encourage a good night’s sleep.
1. Help them plan their revision schedule
At school, we will be holding plenty of revision sessions, but it can be helpful to plan in some time to revise independently at home. Breaking down the subjects into individual chunks can help to reduce anxiety, and make the work feel more manageable.
It’s also important to make sure your child has a calm and peaceful place where they can study. Help them come up with practical ways of revising, like comparing their answers against past papers or using post-it notes, and ask how else you can help. Remember, your role is to be supportive rather than judgemental on what they’ve learned.
2. Be flexible wherever possible
The exam period can be overwhelming for some children, particularly if they have additional stresses on top of their studying. Try to be flexible when it comes to their regular chores and understand that if they’re not studying, it is normally better for them to be relaxing so as to avoid getting too stressed. However, a tidy and orderly learning environment is likely to be better for them than an over-cluttered mess, so some cleaning may help.
3. Reassure them
GCSE and A-levels are important to your child’s future, whether that’s within education, taking on an apprenticeship, or moving into the world of work. But they are not the be-all and end-all, and you should reinforce that you will be proud of their hard work no matter what happens. Stay positive and hopeful throughout the exam period and remind them that their efforts will be rewarded.
4. Seek extra support
It may be that your child wants to seek reassurance and support from others; that’s totally normal, and the more support they have the better. You ask a close family member, or example an auntie or older cousin, to reach out and offer some support.
There are also plenty of services that children can access online. The Mix, for example, is a helpline, advice and forum for under 25s and the Shout text service offers support to anyone who’s struggling. The Kooth app is also great, and has an online community, articles, one-to-one chat and a journal feature, and of course, there’s always Childline whose advisers are really supportive.
5. Plan a treat
It’s always nice to have something to look forward to after putting in a lot of hard work, so planning a treat for your child is a good way to celebrate their achievements, and give them a chance to relax and unwind. It doesn’t need to be something that costs a lot of money: something simple like having a friend to sleep over, or picking a film to watch for a movie night, can help them to see there’s light at the end of the tunnel.