You know it’s exam stress when your kid is more irritable than normal, has trouble sleeping, finds it hard to focus, or feels lethargic. But you can
help him manage his exam performance fears so that he stays calm on the big day.
Make sure he has a healthy lifestyle
Good lifestyle habits go a long way towards helping kids manage exam stress.
“Regular cardiovascular exercise – 20 minutes, three times a week – helps the mind function better and reduces stress and anxiety,” says
psychiatrist Dr Lim Boon Leng of Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness.
“It also boosts confidence and, because it’s time away from studying, is a good way to relax.”
But, don’t wait until the last minute to make sure your child is getting enough sleep or exercise or taking regular breaks from studying.
“It’s difficult to address a child’s anxiety right before the exams, so these positive lifestyle habits should already be in place,” Dr Lim adds.
Help him structure his time before the exams
“This will help him see that he does, in fact, have a lot of time to revise for his exams, and in turn, this will build his confidence and keep his anxiety at bay.
“Make sure he uses this time wisely, too, so he’s not cramming for his exams at the eleventh hour. For example, remind him to give himself little tests every now and again, give him practice papers, and so on.
“The better prepared he is, the less overwhelmed he will feel during the exam period.”
Focus on the learning process, not the outcome
Remind your child that the purpose of his education is to learn and to challenge himself. Tell him that as long as he’s worked hard, he’s succeeded, Dr Lim says.
Too many parents focus on exam results and this is how many kids develop exam stress about how they will fare – they may worry about being punished or getting into a “bad” school if they don’t perform well.
“In addition, you should drive home the message that doing his best is what really counts,” adds Freda Sutanto, an educational
and developmental psychologist at Kaleidoscope Therapy Centre.
“Let him know that you’re happy as long as he has put in his best effort, remind him that you’re on this journey with him and express your unconditional support.”
Don’t criticise, threaten or get upset with your kid – this will only add to his emotional burden. And Carol advises you to be calm during the exam period because children absorb their parents’ stress quite easily.
Come up with an “exam survival” plan
Knowing how to deal with his biggest exam fears may help your child feel less anxious, says Freda.
For example, if he’s worried that he will stammer or mispronounce certain words during an oral exam, discuss how he can prevent it from happening or what to do if it happens.
If it’s a written exam and he’s worried that he’ll get stuck on a difficult question and run out of time to finish the paper, tell him to allocate a certain amount of time to each question and to move on if he can’t complete that question in time.
“It’s important to address this catastrophic thinking and help him feel more confident,” Freda says.
“That’s why your child should learn how to confront and minimise his fears, and to have solutions to whatever might be causing his anxiety.”
Try visualisation and breathing techniques
Freda says to remind your child not to feed off his classmates’ nervous energy while waiting for an exam to start, as this may increase his exam stress.
“Teach him to visualise more helpful scenarios instead, ones in which he is calm and in control.”
Deep breathing, meditation and other mindfulness techniques may help your kid focus more on the present and shift his attention away from whatever fear and anxiety he’s experiencing. They may also put him in a more relaxed state.
However, Dr Lim says that such techniques require a fair bit of practice to be useful, so you may want to get your child started on them several months before the exams.
Freda offers one breathing technique that may help ease your child’s anxiety instantly: “To help him stay focused and prevent a panicky episode, get him to hold his fingers up on one hand.
“Tell him to imagine that his fingers are mountains and ask him to breathe in deeply while looking at his fingers. Then, as he exhales, tell him to slowly close his fingers down on his palm until the ‘mountains’ disappear.”
Take it easy right before the exam
The night before the big exam, spend about 30 minutes with your child, just reading or talking. Freda says that your kid is likely feeling pressured and full of adrenaline, so this downtime will help settle his emotions.
The morning of the exam, she suggests going through the main points or any tricky parts he may not feel so confident about. This will benefit his emotional state more than trying to memorise or cram in facts, and will likely help him walk into the school feeling more confident.