Parenting, Teen Mental Health, School and exams

26 July, 2016

Stay ahead of your child’s exam stress!

Exam stress: illustration of a young female student looking anxious as she reads through books while studying

Anxiety can have a helpful role as young people prepare for their end-of-year and state exams.

No matter how much you prepare for exams, the pressure is firmly on and often the anxiety can be overwhelming for both students and their parents. However, according to St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS), anxiety is not always a bad thing.

Colman Noctor, Child and Adult Psychotherapist at SPMHS, says:

Anxiety can motivate us and spur us on. Therefore, it is not a realistic goal to eliminate anxiety; rather, the goal is to manage it.”

So what can parents do to manage both their own anxiety and that of their children?

The best approach to supporting a young person through the anxious exam period is to follow their lead. All young people are different and experience their environment differently so it is best to ask them what they need in order to support them effectively.

Instead of worrying if your child is working hard enough or working too hard, focus on creating a stress-free environment for students that allows their hard work to pay off.

Avoid piling on the pressure at this stage; rather, manage expectations of both yourself and your child. Encourage your child to be open and honest about their anxiety levels and facilitate open and honest communication.

Always remember to support the effort. At this stage, there is little value in going over what the young person could have done or discussing the option to repeat. Acknowledge and focus on the work that has been done and provide reassurance.

Reassure the young person that the examiner wants to find out what they do know, as opposed to what they don’t know. Young people can feel overwhelmed, and anxiety tends to focus the mind on the gaps, as opposed to the work completed. Be the other voice in this regard.

Remind the young person that this will pass! There is no person in the world who still suffers from Leaving Cert anxiety 20 years on; although some of us will still dream about it, we have gotten over it and they will too.

Remember the most important A is an A in emotional health.

Paul Gilligan, Chief Executive Officer of SPMHS, says: "we know that one in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental health disorders and that, by age 13, one in three have some type of mental health difficulty; by 24, one in two."

"It is therefore vital that we pay special attention to the emotional needs of our young people at this time of year. It’s our job as parents to protect our young by letting them know that exams are not the be all and end all. Exam time is stressful but, with the right attitudes and support, every student can flourish.”

Learn more about staying mentally well during exams

Learn more about staying mentally well during exams

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Raising Emotionally Healthy Children