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How to help your child deal with stress this exam season

May 22nd, 2018 by Dr van Zwanenberg

Exam season can be one of the most stressful times in your child's life, where the pressure they experience impacts the way they think, feel and behave.

It is important to know that feeling some stress is normal and causes our 'fight or flight' response to kick in, which can help your child to perform well during their exams. However, when these nerves become unrelenting and overwhelming, this can be dangerous to their health and wellbeing.

If you are worried about your child's stress levels, check for symptoms. Are they more tired and irritable than usual? Are they leaving more of their meals or are you finding their uneaten school lunches? Are they spending less time doing the activities they once enjoyed? If your child is exhibiting these signs, take the time to help them manage their stress so that it doesn't have a long term impact where unhealthy coping habits take hold.

Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg - Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Priory Group - has outlined the steps you can take to help your child look after themselves when going through exam season.

Get your child to talk about how they feel

Choose a time when you and your child are both free to talk without any distractions. You may want to go for a walk or drive together after dinner, so that they don't feel pressured by the one-on-one conversation.

Ask your child how they feel and remind them it is normal to have strong emotions like anger, anxiousness and sadness from time-to-time. If they are worried about failing their exams, try to challenge their irrational thinking by helping them to see the hard work and dedication that they've put in over the period.

If they are worrying about a worst case scenario, make them aware that they are creating a catastrophe in their head without evidence it will happen. Suggest to them options that would work if things do not go to plan so they can see they always have positive opportunities.

Remind your child that you are here to talk to them whenever they need, so that they know that they can turn to you in moments when they feel stressed.

Make sure they have a good balance of revision and relaxation

Don't put pressure on your child to revise all the time, and make sure that they don't put this pressure on themselves.

When they are taking time away from their books, encourage them to get outside and exercise, as this can help to improve their mood and sleep pattern. Maybe suggest a sports activity that you can do together so they feel more encouraged to go. Also make sure that their relaxation time isn't solely spent looking at screens, especially in the hour before bedtime.

Distract and divert their attention when they're getting stressed

During the moments when you feel your child's stress levels rising, suggest an activity that you can do together to help distract them from their worries.

Watch their favourite film together, go through old photo albums or even watch funny YouTube videos together. Giving them this light relief can help to prevent their stress from escalating into something that they then struggle to manage.

Teach them stress-busting strategies

There are a number of strategies that you can teach your child to help them relax. Firstly, get them to visualise their worries, and then to build a metaphorical brick wall between themselves and their stressful thoughts.

You can also ask them to set an expiration time on their worry. Urge them not to think about their exam worries for any more than 10 minutes in the morning or at night, as any more could lead to a pattern of constant worry.

You may also want to try getting your child to think of a relaxing memory. Ask them to describe it to you in detail, including what they hear, smell, see and feel. If they practice going to this place in their head when they feel stressed, this can be a strategy they can use to relax and distract themselves from their worries.

By helping your child to learn how to manage their exam stress, this can help to prevent it from snowballing into something that impacts their health and wellbeing. If you feel that their stress isn't improving, you may need to book an appointment with your GP, who will be able to talk to you about the help and support that is available.

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