“I’m so worried about my exams – I can’t concentrate on my revision”
“I revise so well but when it comes to the exam my mind goes blank”
“I can’t do this, I just want to give up”
I wonder, as a parent, if you have heard these types of exclamations from your teenage children who are now sitting their exams? Jteen has received lots of contacts from anxious teens who are struggling with the pressure and anxiety of the exam season. So how can you help your child feel calmer? Here are 7 easy tips that can make a huge difference.
1. It is normal
It is a common phenomenon in psychology to worry about worry. We think it is a problem to worry, so become even more worried. When it comes to exams, parents often quickly become excessively worried about their childrens’ exam anxiety, which then only makes the child more anxious. What we should do as parents is appreciate that anxiety and pressure around exams are normal. The big difference is that we are going to help our teen control their anxiety, rather than letting it control them.
2. Sleep, sleep and more sleep
It is the oldest trick in the book, but perhaps the least practiced! Everyone needs sleep for their brains to concentrate and focus to the maximum, none more so than the developing teen brain. Encourage your teen, especially the night before an exam, but ideally a few days before, to hit the pillow and forgo the late night/early morning cramming sessions. Sleep is putting your mind and body on recharge mode. So, coming to the exam with a full battery is a sure way to beat off anxiety and stress. Also remember that caffeine consumption which is often used to give more energy to study, can often impact on sleep quality and patterns.
3. It is not the end of the world
Many of us know the phrase, “think good, feel good.” This idea demonstrates the key role that thoughts play in the way we feel. If a person goes into an exam thinking that their whole life depends on getting a good grade right now, how do you think they will feel? Obviously, very anxious. Help your teen put the exam into the correct perspective, “It’s important to do well and I want you to try your best, but it’s not the end of the world and you certainly are not a failure if you don’t.” This is a much healthier attitude and will consequently lead to healthier feelings. There is one snag. Parents are often the ones who are influencing a teenager’s perspective on the significance of an exam. If we transmit a healthy perspective on exams that will undoubtedly result in a calmer mindset for our children.
4. Distraction free zone
Many of the teens who have reached out to Jteen with exam anxiety acknowledge that the problem is exacerbated by their lack of preparation and efficient use of revision time. Concentration and focus have become harder to obtain, largely due to the proliferation of distractions, usually devices that compete more than ever for a teen’s attention. Help your teen create a study environment which is free of distractions, whilst at the same time building structured breaks into the revision time. Students who generally have access to social media have found huge improvements to their concentration levels when social media apps are deleted off their phone for their study and exam period.
5. Arrive at the exam location on time
It seems obvious but being late can make a stressful situation even more difficult. Rushing to show up on time might only add to your child’s stress before the exam and they are then far more likely to carry that with them into the exam. Getting your teen to the exam location early prevents those issues. Plus, it provides some time to transition from one’s everyday headspace to “exam mode.”. Coming prepared, not being hungry, and a healthy mindset on the day of an exam does wonders for a teenager’s prospects in the examination room.
6. Remember to breathe!
Breathing may seem absurdly simple — after all, we do it practically every second. But it can be a surprisingly powerful tool to soothe anxiety. The diaphragmatic breathing technique achieves this goal. Slow breathing reduces the heart rate, lowers the blood pressure, and allows the body and mind to chill out. Try it yourself so you can effectively teach it to your teen for when they are feeling anxious:
- Breathe in slowly and gently through your nose.
- Let your abdomen (diaphragm) expand alongside your ribs, rather than breathing through your chest alone.
- Very slowly and gently breathe out of your nose.
- Repeat the cycle until you feel calmer.
That is it. It is easy and can be used before and during an exam to relieve anxiety.
Teenagers being teenagers often want to feel independent and might be reluctant to share their feelings or listen to advice from parents. As a parent, it’s important to recognise that this is normal teenage behaviour, whilst at the same time encouraging them to reach out for support. Jteen is a text and phone support service that helps teens reach out anonymously with whatever emotional challenges they face. Encourage your teenager to contact Jteen so that our trained counsellors and therapists can help him/her cope with the pressures and anxiety that exams so often bring.
In some cases, children need more than support and advice. A trained therapist can offer more guidance with personalized coping techniques to help your teen work through exam anxiety.
Yaakov Barr is a psychotherapist, clinical director and founder of Jteen. Jteen is a charity supporting the emotional wellbeing of our teens. For further information about Jteen, go to www.jteensupport.org. The Jteen text helpline is open for teens every night from 6-12. The number to text is 07860 058 823