Tackling Exam Anxiety – 10 Expert Tips for Parents and Children

At A Glance: 

  1. Exams aren’t the life-and-death situations we make them out to be.
  2. Enjoying the process of learning reduces exam stress drastically.
  3. Knowing that exams are only tests to evaluate understanding of concepts can take a huge burden off the child’s mind.

We should not give up and we should not allow the problem to defeat us. ~ Dr APJ Abdul Kalam

Come exams and the routine in a household goes for a toss. Parents’ social routines are suddenly based on the child’s exam timetable, study hours increase and playtime curfews are set. In the digital age, it translates to going off all social networking sites. With the “big” board exam, the stress is manifold. 

Are exams really the monsters we make them out to be? Exams are really simple tests designed to help your child evaluate how much he has understood what he has learnt in the classroom. It definitely isn’t a life-and-death situation. The score a child earns doesn’t define him or his skills. He can always work at getting better. 

As a responsible parent, it becomes your duty to slowly erase the mentality that “exam scores define intelligence” and help the child deal with any sort of exam anxiety he goes through. This will also equip him to actually score to his potential, not worrying unduly about fear of failure and competition. 

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What causes exam anxiety in a child?

  1. Unreasonable expectations – It is not just parents who can set high expectations from the child – the child himself can set a high bar for himself. Both these scenarios cause anxiety. The focus shifts to fulfilling those expectations rather than enjoying the process of learning. 
  2. Fear of Judgement and Failure – Worrying over the question paper, if he will be able to answer them right and on time, stressing over being judged for a low score and getting left behind his peers, these are some concerns that cause exam anxiety in children. 
  3. Not enough preparation – Not being prepared enough for a well-anticipated challenge has never done anyone good! Not preparing for an exam leads to last-minute cramming sessions, sleepless nights, undue anxiety – all of which affect physical and mental health. Ultimately it doesn’t allow the child to think with a clear mind.

Let us also analyse – What mistakes do parents commonly commit?

  1. Ignoring their own stressors – In the process of wanting to help your children cope with stress, as parents you may often neglect the fact that you may be equally stressed. Always remember, only if you take good care of yourself can you help and guide your child. 
  2. The comparison game – Comparison with other children often does more harm than good. Constantly reminding the child of his limitations and previous mistakes can leave him feeling more upset and anxious. 
  3. Confused minds – Due to your own stress you may end up speaking to friends and family about their worries and receive too many opinions on how to handle the situation. No one means harm but each person answers from their individual experiences while may be completely different from what your child is going through. It is not a bad idea to talk to someone else, but if it ends up confusing you, it is better to stay away. 
  4. Sudden routine changes – When the child has exams, parents may end up cancelling social appointments and take leave from office just to be with their child. Routine changes may also include restricted media usage times. But remember hovering over the child causes him more stress than good.
  5. Lack of communication – In the current competitive world, that scores are highly important is a fact taken for granted. There is a general lack of communication on what the child’s real challenges are, how to handle competition and expectations better, the fact that exams don’t determine the vast future and the importance of focusing on the present. 
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So, how can parents truly help their child tackle exam anxiety?

1. Explain the actual significance

Children study with the aim of learning new concepts. Exams are taken simply to evaluate how much of that concept has been understood. Help your child realize this fact and exams become more of a healthy challenge than a monster! Allow him to enjoy the very process of learning. Ascertain that it is important to do well, but not worry over it so much that it ends up causing stress! For that destroys the very purpose of acquiring knowledge.

2. De-stress Yourself

What affects you, affects your child and vice versa. Hence it is equally essential that you de-stress yourself so that you can have your child’s back during exam time. Do activities that relax you, go out for walks, play an interesting game with your child during his study breaks. Even if you decide to take a few days off from to be around your child at home, ensure you don’t interfere with his schedule. Use that opportunity to replenish your own energies.

3. Maintain Open Communication

Talk to your child about his worries. It helps to let out what’s inside and understand the thought patterns that trigger anxiety. Ask questions like, “What is your biggest worry when you appear for exams?” “Is there a flexible study schedule we can help you form?” “Is there any way you would like to be helped?” “What are your biggest doubts?”. Let the child feel at home with you, help him with practical suggestions and make the home atmosphere peaceful. It will make him calmer and more confident. 

4. Respect the child’s Space

Don’t make examinations feel like cages to children. Don’t cancel family outings or stop people from coming home because of your child’s exams. Instead, doing things together as a family will actually help the child focus better and not worry too much. Go out to the park during a break, play a game. Plan ahead with the child and respect his schedule. Let him know you’re there if he needs anything. 

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5. Learning Strategies

There are some learning strategies that can help your child take tests without fretting over them : 

  1. Tackle the easy questions first. This takes away his worry for he’s scored himself easy marks here. Leave time for the difficult questions and go back to them later. 
  2. If arriving at the right answer is difficult, make the best possible guess, leave it and move ahead. Let him remember, he’s given your best and not everyone knows all right answers anyway!
  3. Do practice tests. If you have a young child, set up practice tests for him a few days before the exam is scheduled with the possible combination of questions. If its a board exam, there are plenty of previous year question papers readily available. 
  4. Strike off the incorrect answers if it is a multiple choice question. It will help the child narrow down his choice of answers. Also, answer the ones you know first.
  5. While he is preparing, encourage him to take short breaks so as to keep his mind fresh. Get him to set out an organised yet flexible schedule for study, with ample time for play and rejuvenation.
  6. Let him devise active learning strategies for himself. For instance, repeating a concept out aloud, connecting main events and making a roadmap in the map, are strategies that help absorb concepts better.
6. Interactive Learning

Using all the senses can most of the times help understand concepts better. You could encourage the child or help him come up with an interesting rhyme to remember dates or the periodic table. Pass a ball back and forth to see how much your child remembers facts or tables. Involve the whole family! Pass an object around and pose questions to each other like math tables or word puzzles. For younger children, you could use fun flash-cards with bright stickers or make them with bright pens for different subjects. Let your child also test you, it makes the journey fun. 

7. Relaxation Techniques

If children set higher expectations for themselves or tend to get anxious faster, it becomes all the more important for them to have relaxation as a key component in their daily schedules. Taking regular deep breaths, walks outside, listening to music, colouring, pursuing a hobby relaxes the mind, keeping it fresh and alert. Meditation is another timeless practice that can be introduced as children grow older. 

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8. Positive Imagery

The mind tends to believe what we make it visualize. Ask the child to pick any activity or previous test he aced. Or a time when he thought he wouldn’t be able to do good, but ended up doing quite well. Let him dwell on this moment in his mind. It gives him confidence that he can do well despite all odds. Another technique could be visualizing walking to the exam hall, being seated and looking at the question paper calmly, without panicking. 

9. Focus on the present

The present is what we have in our hands to make the best use of. What we do right now, determines our future. Teach your child to focus on the task at hand, to study and give his best in the now, rather than worrying about results in the future. This will give him the assurance that he is prepared to his best. 

10. Boost Confidence

Encourage positive self-talk. When the brain tells him something is too hard he can reply back, “You don’t worry! I’ve got this covered.” Observe the mistakes your child tends to make. If he misses certain facts or mixes up dates, help him resolve that. 

Key Takeaways: 
  1. De-stress yourself, only then will you be able to help your child.
  2. Talk to him, let him know you always have his back.
  3. Interactive learning, study schedules, making time for recreation, are all important aspects of managing stress during examination time.

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