Beat school exam stress

Tests and exams, including GCSEs, can be a challenging part of school life for both children and parents. But there are ways to ease the stress.

Exercise will help boost children's energy levels, clear their mind and relieve stress. Walking, cycling, swimming and dancing are all effective.

1. Watch out for exam stress

Look out for signs of exam stress. Stressed children may be irritable, not sleep well, lose interest in food, worry a lot and appear depressed or negative. Headaches and stomach pains can also be stress-related.

Having someone to talk to about their work can help. Support from a parent, tutor or study buddy can help children air their worries and keep things in perspective.

If you feel your child isn't coping, talk to teachers at your child's school.

Find out more about stress and how to spot it.

2. Ensure your child eats well at exam time

balanced diet is vital for your child's health and can help them feel well during exam periods.

Some parents find that too many high-fat, high-sugar and high-caffeine foods and drinks (such as cola, sweets, chocolate, burgers and chips) make their children hyperactive, irritable and moody.

Try out these healthy recipes at home.

3. Sleep helps exam performance

Good sleep will improve your child's thinking and concentration. Most teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours' sleep a night. Learn more in How much sleep do children need?

Allow half an hour or so for kids to wind down between studying, watching TV or using a computer and going to bed to help them get a good night's sleep.

Cramming all night before an exam is usually a bad idea. Sleep will benefit your child far more than hours of panicky last-minute study.

Here are some sleep tips for teenagers.

4. Be flexible at exam time

Family Lives advises parents to be flexible around exam time. When your child is revising all day, don't worry about household jobs that are left undone or untidy bedrooms.

Staying calm yourself can help. Remember, exams don't last forever.

5. Help your child revise

Help your child revise by making sure they have somewhere comfortable to study. Help them draw up a revision schedule or ask the school for one.

6. Discuss any exam nerves

Remind your child that feeling nervous is normal. Nervousness is a natural reaction to exams.

The key is to put these nerves to positive use. Being reminded of what they do know and the time they have put into study can help them feel confident.

7. Encourage exercise at exam time

Make sure your kids are active. Exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. Walking, cycling, swimming, football and dancing are all effective.

Read 10 fun ways for teen boys to get fit.

Get advice on how girls can get started with dance for fitness.

8. Don't add to exam pressure

Support group ChildLine says that many of the children who contact them feel that the greatest pressure at exam time comes from their family.

"Keep things in perspective," says Rosanne Pearce, a senior supervisor. "Listen to them, give support and avoid criticism."

Before they go in for a test or exam, be reassuring and positive. Make sure they know that failing isn't the end of the world and they may be able to take the exam again if things don't go well.

After each exam, encourage your child to talk it through with you. Then move on and focus on the next test, rather than dwelling on things that can't be changed.

9. Have treats after exams

When the exams are over, help celebrate with a treat. These can be a real encouragement for the next time they have a test.

Don't use rewards as bribes. Instead, encourage them to work for their own satisfaction, offering small, frequent treats.

More information

For more information, read the Mind website page on exam stress.

Page last reviewed: 15/03/2015

Next review due: 15/03/2017

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