Helping your teen through exam time doesn’t have to be a mine field of walking on egg shells and tip toeing around. It’s about being practical and helping them identify their own responses and showing them how to address these issues. Ensure you’re not adding pressure by setting unrealistic expectations or standards on them, and they’re not doing the same to themselves. Their lives, their choices, their consequences.
Some students will mask their stress and anxiety with a complete shut down of “I don’t care” and take themselves out of the game by just not trying, or taking part. Making out they don’t care about their grades (if a child in senior is doing this either they’re doing the wrong subjects or they’re not equipped to cope with real world stressors’ or aren’t worried about the future which is another topic for another time).
Some will take on board every little thing and react with either emotional or angry outbursts or both!
Some aren’t academic and may or may not stress over upcoming exam times by getting depressed at their perceived lack of achievement.
Some kids will breeze through exam time, knowing they’ve done the hard work and their best is all they can do (for this group, a huge kudos to you as parents for teaching them these amazing life skills).
But what can I do?
1. Help your teen recognise some stress is okay.
Stress is a natural response. It’s a healthy response. It can motivate, drive and keep you focused. But there comes a point where too much stress turns to anxiety and causes mental health and/or physical issues. Everyone’s stress levels differ. Help your teen identify when they’re moving into unhealthy stressing and give them some coping mechanisms such as the one’s listed below. If it gets too bad it may be time for some professional intervention such as school guidance counsellor, seeing a psychologist through a GP Allied Health Plan or Headspace etc or helping them learn meditation and breathing exercises.
2. Check in with them regularly
You can check in with them regularly – not when they’re studying but on the drive to school, at breakfast or dinner time – it’s important during exam times to have family meal times – no devices, no study notes, no headphones, just family time to offload, talk things through, to keep a bit of normality in their lives.
3. Give them their space
You can give them their space. Ensure they have a quiet, suitable study place in the home where younger siblings will leave them alone and they can concentrate.
4. Spoil and remind
Spoil them: My grade 11 daughter has her study desk in her bedroom which at the start of study period I plaster with positive and encouraging post-it notes for her, reminders to take a break, breathe and hydrate etc. I also stock it with bananas, fruit and nut mixes and her favourite chocolates – Lindt.
5. Prioritising study over work
If they’re working part time help them to manage this with study and deadline expectations. For student’s going for university entry scores now is not the time to be getting as many hours at work as possible, now is the time to prioritise study. Teach them how to liaise with their boss to get required time off. Short term losses for long term gains. It’s also a great life lesson to teach them.
6. Prioritising tasks
One of the greatest skills teenagers can learn is time management. Teach them how to prioritise tasks can help reduce stress and help them feel more in control. Having assessment pieces handed in prior to due dates teaches them not to leave things to the last minute, reducing a lot of stress. It also then clears them up to focus on exams.
7. Teach them all your study tricks
Teach them all the tricks you learnt or if you weren’t very academic or scholarly ask someone you know who was, for their top tips. As someone with 3 degrees, mine are:
- Eat properly during study and exam periods, it makes a big difference to mental state and memory
- Magnesium is natures chill pill – most of us are deficient in it, and if your student has a lot of acne it could be a magnesium or zinc deficiency. Grab a bottle from the chemist and have them take one of a morning, if taken at night it can cause sleep disruptions for some people.
- Teenagers get less sleep during exam times but it’s important to encourage them to get adequate sleep, to go with their healthy eating to get optimal results.
- Each day during term recap what was taught in class. Learn it as you go along – a lot less time consuming and a lot less stressful than leaving it to a few days before the exam to learn and understand.
- If you can’t explain something in under 3 sentences, you don’t understand it well enough. Study to understand, not remember.
- Hydrate regularly
- Set an alarm on your phone and get up every 45 minutes for a 5 minute stretch and walk around to get the circulation moving in your body.
- Record your notes during the semester onto your phone and listen to them as you go to sleep. You’ll be amazed at what gets into your conscious and sub-conscious that you can recall when required.
- The mark you get on this assignment or exam is not the definer of future success and careers. There are so many different avenues to so many different careers and jobs these days. Do your best but don’t let it affect your mental health.
- Set realistic expectations. If you haven’t put in 2-3 hours of study each night after class for most of the semester (remember we’re talking to OP/ATAR seniors here) then you can’t realistically expect to fly through your exams. Recognise the effort you’ve put in and be realistic about the outcome you can achieve.
- Remember, failure is a crucial step on the path to success. Worst case you fail, and learn from the mistake.
- Post-it notes around the house are under-rated – use them, everywhere.
- “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”. Henry Ford. The mind is amazing, teach your teens to think positively. Teach your teens of the plasticity of the brain and how they can change their lives by changing their thinking.
Remember, if stress gets beyond the normal, seek professional counselling and services.
Good luck seniors, school holidays are so close.
Good luck parents, empty nest is far too close now (and that’s a whole other article).
With Christmas and Graduations just around the corner, get in early and pick up some of our last remaining copies of Beyond School: Practical Tips for Teens which is 16 chapters of tips to help your teens navigate the real world. Pick up a copy for just $10 HERE