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A Parent's Guide to Supporting Children through Pressure and Anxiety

I have spoken with a number of parents this week who have children at home preparing for (and now writing) their GCSE exams. For many, it is a time of treading on eggshells, as their children’s anxiety around the exams is easily taken out on the nearest living being – mostly their parents! For many, the atmosphere at home might feel charged with tension and stress. For parents, watching their children navigate the pressures of exams can be both challenging and worrying. It's natural for young minds to feel overwhelmed by the weight of expectations, but as parents and teachers there are numerous ways to provide support and guidance to help them cope with exam pressure and anxiety effectively.

It's crucial to recognize that exam anxiety is a common phenomenon among pupils of all ages. The fear of failure, concerns about performance, and the pressure to meet academic standards can all contribute to heightened stress levels. Acknowledging these feelings and understanding their root causes is the first step in helping our children manage their anxiety.

Many children tend to neglect their well-being in pursuit of academic success. As parents, we can play a pivotal role in promoting healthy habits that support both mental and physical wellness. We should encourage our children to prioritise adequate sleep, nutritious meals, regular exercise, and breaks from studying. These practices not only enhance cognitive function but also help alleviate stress and anxiety.

Maintaining open lines of communication with our children is also essential, especially during times of heightened stress. We should encourage them to express their concerns, fears, and frustrations without judgement, actively listen to their thoughts and feelings, and offer reassurance and support. We need to let them know that it's okay to feel nervous and that we’re there to help them navigate through challenging times.

One of the most significant sources of exam-related stress is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material to cover. We can help them break down their study schedule into manageable tasks and set realistic goals. We can teach them effective time management strategies, such as creating a study timetable, prioritising topics based on importance, and taking regular breaks to prevent burnout. By empowering them to take control of their study routine, we can alleviate some of the pressure they may be feeling.

Our children often catastrophise during the exam period, and a sense of not doing well enough can often pervade their thinking. We can try to instil in them the importance of adopting a growth mindset, which emphasises the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Young people need to be reminded that exams are not just about performance but also about learning and growth. Encouraging them to view mistakes and setbacks as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than reasons for despair, may help to reduce some of the fear of failure that many children may have.

As parents, there are various practical ways in which we can support our children during the exam season. We could offer to quiz them on key concepts (met with much resistance at times!), provide resources and study materials, and create a conducive study environment free from distractions. Hard as it may be, we need to try to be flexible and accommodating of their needs, whether it's adjusting meal times or providing emotional support during particularly stressful periods.

While exams are undoubtedly important, it's essential to maintain a sense of balance and perspective. Encouraging our children to engage in activities they enjoy outside of studying, whether it's hobbies, sports, or spending time with friends and family, is very important. We need to remind them that their worth is not solely determined by their academic achievements and that their well-being is paramount.

Exam season can be a challenging time for both children and parents alike, but with the right support and guidance, it can also be an opportunity for growth and development. By fostering open communication, promoting healthy habits, encouraging a growth mindset, and providing practical support, we can help our children navigate through exam pressure and anxiety with resilience and confidence. We need to remember that our unwavering support and understanding can make all the difference in helping our children thrive academically and emotionally.

Craig Cuyler
Director of Wellbeing/Head of PSHEe/
Deputy DSL/ Assistant Housemaster

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