If you are worried about your child’s stress levels around school work or exams, the first thing to do is talk to them. They may not want to admit it at first and may be scared they will be told off. It’s really important to reassure your child they have your support and you want to help them do their best, even if it seems like it’s too late.
It is also important to talk to their teacher about your concerns. They should be able to tell you how your child is behaving at school and if there are any areas they need specific help with. They can help your child draw up a timetable of their work and when it needs to be done by. The school may have specialised staff, such as learning mentors who can support your child.
If the school think your child might have a problem with learning such as dyslexia, or a developmental problem like attentiion deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) which causes difficulties with concentration and focus, they should involve the special educational needs co-ordinator (senco) to offer your child more support. If this support does not resolve the problem, they may ask for further help.
To help your child with their homework and school work, it is important to find out what they are studying each term, what homework they have and when it needs to be handed in. Your child’s class or form teacher should provide you with this information, if not, make sure you ask for it. Many secondary school children use a virtual learning environment (website) set up by the school, where they can log in and receive information, do research and complete their work online, and you should be able to access this too. Again, contact the school for advice on how to support your child with their learning and homework.
Rather than policing your child, it is important to support them to do their best – show that you value education because it will give them the best chances and bring out their talents. Reassurance is very important, so make sure they know you are proud of them and will love them even if they don’t get top marks.
If you feel your child’s worries around schoolwork or exams are developing into an emotional problem or mental health difficulty, or that they are making existing problems worse, you can ask your GP to refer them to specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Youth counselling services can also help, and young people can refer themselves to these. Most will see young people between the ages of 13-25.
Tips on managing exam stress for parents
Exam time is a major cause of stress for children and parents and carers. Parents get anxious about how much their children are working, whether they are looking after themselves, and whether they will get the results they need. Children are often stressed, anxious and irritable, and can have trouble with eating and sleeping. Some parents find their own difficult memories of exams or school return at this time and make it harder to help their children.
The following tips should help:
- Accept this is going to be a stressful time for the whole family – expect outbursts and try to remain calm
- Try and find out as early as possible what is expected of your child, when their exams will be and when coursework needs to be handed in
- Try and work with your child and support them rather than policing them
- Be clear that avoiding subjects they find difficult will not be helpful in the long run
- Encourage children to talk to you if they are really worried they haven’t done enough work. Reassure them that if they do not get their expected grades, there will be other opportunities ahead, and they should just do their best
- Find out what revision techniques are recommended by the school, and check out online revision sites
- If you have any concerns or questions, contact the school rather than relying on your child to do it – most teachers have email addresses which can be useful if they are hard to contact
- Encourage your child to have regular breaks, to do something they enjoy, even if it’s just half an hour off for their favourite soap
- Make sure they eat healthy snacks regularly, and drink enough so they don’t get dehydrated – you can always pop your head in to see how they are doing and bring them a drink
- Exercise is also a good way to relax, even just a walk round the block
- Children have different ways of revising – some may prefer to be alone, others work best surrounded by noise and family
- Respect their body clocks – many teenagers are more alert during the night and this may be the best time for them to revise even though it makes parents anxious!
- After an exam or hand-in, they might not want to talk about it immediately so let them decide
- Try and plan something nice for when it’s all over – reward them for trying their best, however they feel it went.
The YoungMinds Parents Helpline offers information and advice to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a young person up to the age of 25.
You can email the Parents Helpline by filling out the online contact form and selecting ‘Parents Helpline’.