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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

Exam stress: Coping as a family

The relationship charity, Relate for Parents, offers advice on how the whole family can make it through the exam season.
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
child in class

1st June 2010 -- Hundreds of thousands of students at secondary school, college and university are entering an intense period of exams. However, according to the relationship charity, Relate for Parents, the anxiety of exams isn’t always just hard on the student but can affect the whole family.

If parents cast their minds back they’ll remember their own exam seasons: the sun streaming through the exam hall windows, the birds singing outside while inside the room is heavy with tension.
Lin Griffiths, Relationship counsellor for Relate for Parents says in a news release: “Exam season can be a really intense and stressful time. For parents it can be hard not to get stressed on their child’s behalf. But trying to keep calm is probably one of the best ways they could help their child.”

The charity advises against extravagant gifts to encourage students to do well and suggests parents keep calm if their child lets off steam by yelling at them.

Here is its advice to help the whole family cope with exam stress.

Tips for students

  • Keep things in perspective. Exams might seem important now but as you grow up you will quickly find they aren’t the only key to success.
  • Finding yourself taking your stress out on others? If you know certain people wind you up - this is a good time to avoid them. You have to look after yourself so try and surround yourself with people who make you feel calm. Be aware of how you are acting, while it might feel like your exams are your whole world, life will be going on as normal for the rest of your family.
  • If you find your mind wandering when revising then take a break. It’s better to do half an hour's hard work and then take ten minutes break than to keep ploughing on, as your concentration slips after about half an hour.
  • Don’t be afraid to get help. If you don't understand something, don't stew over it - ask a friend or a teacher. Also don’t feel you have to bottle up your stress. A great way to alleviate stress is to confide in someone you trust.
  • On exam day, don't panic! Close your eyes and take several long deep breaths. This will calm your whole nervous system, and get rid of any mind-blank. Repeat 'I am calm' or 'I will do fine' to yourself several times and believe in yourself.

Tips for parents

  • The important thing is to stay calm, maybe your child needs someone to shout at and you need to be strong enough to take it. Tell yourself it’s the stress talking!
    Provide a suitable space for your child to work at revision and allow them time to work free from distractions.
  • Avoid setting up expectations in your child, for example, that you know they will do well - better to tell them that you want them to do their best.
  • Provide small treats as they revise and do their exams. They will help your child to feel important and cared for. Their favourite food, new equipment for the exams, all help them to feel that you have noticed they are under a bit of pressure and want to help them feel good. Don’t offer extravagant gifts or big amounts of money for exam success. It can be an incentive but it may also become an extra pressure.
  • Other children not taking exams might not be so sympathetic to their exam stressed sibling. They may feel jealous of the extra attention their brother/sister is getting because of their exams and start acting up. Try to explain it is just for a short while and try to do nice things with them to make sure they don’t feel forgotten.

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