Exam Stress – Helping Teens Cope

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There is a lot of chat on the media at the moment about exam stress.  Students are buckling under the pressure, with some missing school and others being described anti-depressants.

Of course exams and grades are important and no doubt you want your child to have the very best start in life.  But these children are approaching adulthood and the time when they will have to make their own decisions about the life they want to live.  At this stressful time, it is likely to be more useful to them to be helped to make good choices, rather than having parental aspirations thrust upon them.  Remember, there will be a lot of pressure coming at them from teachers and peers, so gentle support and encouragement may make for a better atmosphere at home.

So what can you do to help?

Here are 10 questions you can use to explore how the exams are affecting your child.  The main point of these questions is for you to focus on what the child is thinking and feeling.  Ideally you will let them speak without interrupting, really hearing what they are saying.  In other words, listening to understand, not to react.  This is your chance to find out what they want for themselves, not to reiterate what you want for them.  Of course you have all your life experience and wisdom to share with them; you know only too well how important it is to make the most of a good education, but if that’s all they ever hear from you, they are much more likely to feel under pressure   And that pressure will be coming from you.

How to use the questions:

  • Take the opportunity to ask a question or two when it seems appropriate.  Don’t ask them all in one sitting!
  • Avoid arguing with them about anything they say.  Just listen until they have finished.
  • Allow them the opportunity to tell you how you can help.  Too much helping becomes interference.
  • If you agree something, stick to your part of it.
  • Thank them for letting you know how they are.

The questions:

  1. How are you feeling about these exams?
  2. How important are the exams to you? 
  3. What would be the worst thing about not getting the grades you want?
  4. On a scale of 0 to 10, how anxious or under pressure do you feel to do well?
  5. Where is the pressure coming from? 
  6. What really doesn’t help?
  7. What would make the biggest difference to how you feel?
  8. What would be the best thing about achieving the grades you want?
  9. If you could speak to one person about the exams, who would that be and what would you say?
  10. What can I/we do to help you through the next few weeks?

As a parent or important adult in their life you will no doubt have great aspirations for these young people, and that is a wonderful thing.  However this is not your time; this is their time.  No amount of persuading and cajoling will change the mind of a rebellious child.  What might make a difference is if they feel listened to, understood, and in charge of their own life, fully supported by the people who love them and will continue to do so no matter what.

According to experts, it is not a good idea to fill them with fear of what will happen if they don’t get their grades.  Nor it is wise to bribe them with gifts, money, the promise of a great holiday.  What they need to know is that they are loved, valued, and considered worthwhile by the most important people in their lives.

If you have tried everything and your child is struggling with anxiety or stress and you think they might benefit from external help, it would be worth considering a session or two of NLP (neuro linguistic programming).  This can be very effective in reducing or removing inappropriate emotional reactions to situations or circumstances. It works quickly and can be used with children of any age. 

If you would like to know more, please phone me on 07767 636302, or email me at Judy@MindShiftCoaching.org

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