Positive Parenting: Helping your teen cope with exam stress | #parenting

EXAM TIME is upon us, and parents and young people across Limerick are preparing for long days in exam halls.
For parents, the internal questions keep on coming. Have they done enough study? Should I have done more to help them? Are they coping? Do they seem to care too little or too much? What should I do now? Parents can find this time particularly difficult as they cannot control the situation or the outcome; the only thing they can do is be supportive and understanding.
It can be difficult, however, to strike the right balance between supporting their children’s efforts and nagging them to distraction.
We will all have certain expectations for how our teenagers should perform in their exams. If our expectations are too high, they may choose to switch off because they feel they can’t meet those expectations. If our expectations are too low, they may equally feel unmotivated because they believe nobody cares how they do.
Research suggests that we need a little bit of stress to perform well, but how much stress varies from student to student. The best way for parents to support their children during exam time is to stay relaxed, to find balance between what we expect and what is genuinely attainable and to help your child to find strategies to cope with whatever pressure they may be feeling.
Stress is a very physical experience. Adrenaline gets released when we get stressed and this puts our heart rate up, increases the rate of our breathing and leads to muscle tension or that feeling of a knotted-up stomach.
This has an impact on our mood and our thinking, and the whole experience becomes a bit circular.
The more we worry, the more stressed we feel. As a parent, your first step is to try to help your teenager work out the source of their stress.
If it’s fear of the unknown, help to demystify the process. Let them talk to people who have been through it and lived to tell the tale. Encourage them to seek advice from supportive teachers who can break down what will happen for them.
If it’s fear of failure, help them clarify their expectations and what they hope to achieve so that they feel more able to achieve the desired outcome. Encourage them to remember that they are studying because they want to achieve their potential and be able to have choices—it’s not about competing with anyone else or meeting anyone else’s expectations. Remind them (and yourself!) that this is not their only chance—they will have plenty of opportunities in life regardless of the result on the day.
If it’s fear of not being able to cope with the workload, help them with a realistic plan that keeps them organised but also allows them enough time to eat, sleep and relax with rewards built in for reaching goals.
This is tough work for parents, and you may feel unappreciated for all of your efforts to motivate your child, so mind yourself with some time off or some space to vent to friends or family. It can be a great help for parents as well as young people to know that they are not the only ones who are finding this time difficult and stressful.

This article was written by a member of Parenting Limerick, a network of parenting and family support organisations. For more information on this and other topics go to www.loveparenting.ie.


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