Dealing with exam stress
There was a time when important exams were something far off in the distance of your life. Weekly spelling and tables tests and end-of-year exams were part of school experience, but apart from marks going into the teacher’s mark book and on your report to show regular progress, they carried no particular weight. But all that has changed now, as testing starts when a child enters school. Exam stress, which used to effect the 16+ age group, is now affecting even the youngest children – so much so that this week we saw kids on strike over SATS for 7 year olds.
If your youngsters are facing exams over the next few weeks here’s some all-round parenting advice to help.
The most important thing your child needs to know is that you aren’t going to judge them by test results. This is difficult, as that is exactly how the government judges them and also judges their teachers. Testing is high stakes; teachers and parents alike are complaining that our schools are becoming little more than exam factories, with children valued as nothing more than a test score. Reassure your child that you value them for who they are, not what marks they get in tests. Talk about those things that can’t be measured, like honesty, friendship, kindness and a sense of humour and make sure your child knows how much you value those characteristics that make them special.
There are some practical steps you can take, too. Make sure that, in the run-up to exams and during the actual exam time, that they are getting plenty of sleep – that means no mobile devices in bedrooms at night and TVs turned off at a time which you consider reasonable. Explain why you’re doing this and hold out on implementing it – your child might not thank you now, but they will see the benefits one day. Tell your child that it’s what parents do, so that children won’t be sorry later.
Ensure that your child is eating properly and allow some treats that you might otherwise forbid. We all work better when we feel encouraged and children are no exception. Maybe cook their favourite meal, or take them out to eat during exam time, just to reinforce the fact that you respect them for the hard work they’re putting in and you’re there for them during a stressful time.
There’s nothing worse than not knowing what’s expected of you or where you should be going. Your child’s school should make it clear to them (and with young children to you) what the tests entail and how to prepare for them. Your child also needs a realistic target for which to aim and again, this is something which their teacher will tell them. Trust the school and help your child understand how to achieve the goal they’ve been given.
Talk in advance about nerves being normal, and the different ways they make us feel physically and emotionally. On exam days, stay calm amid the nerves and send your child off to school with your reassurance as the last thing they hear. Celebrate like crazy when it’s all over, and when the results come, celebrate good news and share the distress if it’s bad news. Be disappointed along with them. Don’t ever be disappointed in them.
There’s life beyond exams, so when exam season ends, make a point of enjoying it together.
Let me know in comments below or on our Facebook page how you and your kids cope with exam season.