Top tips for helping your teen during an exam period
When you have a teenager in high school, navigating the stress of exams is inevitable. You can be prepared by implementing these helpful exam stress tips for parents.
Exam stress can take many shapes and forms for both parents and teenagers. What’s important is being able to recognise when your teen is stressed and preventing your own stress from affecting their behaviour.
By creating a calm and supportive home for your child during exam periods, you’ll be helping them put their best foot forward for each examination.
Here's how to help your teenager with exam stress.
Exam preparation tips for parents
When considering how to deal with exam stress, the first step is always to be prepared. Follow our helpful tips to assist your teen to be as proactive as possible.
Create a quiet study space
Make sure your teenager has a designated space in your home for study. Ideally, this will be somewhere quiet and removed from the rest of the family, where they can shut the door and concentrate.
Assist them in setting up the space to minimise distractions. This may involve agreeing on a rule that their mobile phone is left outside the door. It could also involve ensuring other family members, especially younger siblings, know the study space is off limits between specific times while your teenager is studying.
Plan a study timetable
When your teenager receives their examination timetable, it’s a good idea to sit down with them and create an adjacent study timetable. A study timetable will help your teen feel more prepared for the coming exams and will ensure you’re aware of what they have on and when, so you can help manage stress ahead of time.
Time management and balance are critical to developing an effective study timetable.
Encourage your teen to continue with their regular sporting commitments or other hobbies, and to incorporate these into their timetable. It’s important for them to step back and clear their head between revision.
Consider making allowances on chores around the house and family events, within reason. If study breaks are fun (rather than filled with tasks such as unpacking the dishwasher), your teen will be more likely to take them regularly, improving their productivity.
It’s vital for you and your teen to understand each other's expectations when it comes to study and examination outcomes. Their expectations of themselves and your expectations of them may differ, so getting it all out in the open before their exam block begins will benefit everyone in the long run.
Your child may be placing a lot of pressure on themselves to get a high ATAR because they think that’s what you expect of them, when this may not be the case. Conversely, your child may expect to do half an hour of revision every day, and continue socialising with their friends as normal, while you may be expecting a bigger study commitment from them.
Having discussions around behaviours and outcomes during and after exams will help you and your child manage expectations, so complications don’t arise when examinations are underway.
Devise coping methods for stress
One of the best exam preparation tips for parents is to have an honest conversation with your child about stress triggers and how to cope with these. As a parent, you’re probably aware of the tell-tale signs that your teen is stressed. Make sure you’re on the lookout for these during exam time and talk to your child about how you can best support them when these situations arise. It's important to know whether your teen wants your attention when they’re stressed, or if they’d prefer to be left alone.
Chat about coping mechanisms they can put in place to combat stress. It may involve taking time out to go for a walk around the block and clear their head or simply laying still and listening to calming music. It could be talking through what they’re stressed about with you, to get a second opinion and/or reassurance.
Everyone has different coping strategies for stress and it’s best to talk these through, so you know how to best support your teen.
Tips for parents during exams
Make sure they’re eating right
This might seem like an obvious tip for parents during exams but taking the time to sit down and eat healthy meals can often be the first thing that falls by the wayside for teens during exam periods.
Your teen may be habitually reaching for comfort food such as chocolate, lollies and biscuits, or they may be too nervous to bother with food at all. Whatever the case, be sure to remind them that eating healthy will help them feel energised to tackle their exams and assist with concentration.
Prepare nutritious meals and study snacks for your teen with a balance of protein, antioxidants, omega-3 and dairy. Store these in the fridge for whenever they take a study break.
Remind your teenager to consumer caffeine in moderation and drink plenty of water.
Encourage them to make sleep a priority
We all make small mistakes when we’re tired. For a teenager during exam time, however, these small mistakes can add up and have a big impact on their final results. The best way to avoid this is by maintaining a regular sleep schedule.
Encourage your child to stick to their study timetable and go to bed at the same time every evening. Teenagers should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep every night to help them function to the best of their abilities.
If your teen is finding it hard to switch off at night, encourage them to try the following before getting into bed:
- minimise screen time
- drink herbal tea such as camomile or valerian root
- read or listen to calming music
- do some light yoga or stretching
- ensure the bedroom is at a comfortable temperature.
Get them moving
Exercise can improve mood and sleep, and reduce stress and anxiety. Encourage your teen to get up and get moving during their study breaks, to help clear their head and enhance their mood. Suggesting a short walk will help them to be more productive when they return to their study space and will also give you a chance to determine how they’re feeling.
Going for a walk together may be the excuse your teen needs to vent about any concerns they have or debrief on their last exam, so they can move onto studying for the next.
How to calm down before exams
Encourage your teen to avoid 'cramming' or panic revision right before an exam starts, as this will only increase their stress levels. Suggest practicing breathing exercises, listening to music or finding an outlet for their nervous energy, such as exercise.
At the end of the day, one of the best ways to help a teenager with exam stress is to offer reassurance. If your teen is stressed because they don’t think they’ll achieve the ATAR required to get into their preferred course program, you need to be the calm voice of reason. Reassure them that there are many pathways to university, and you can explore these together after the exam period ends, to map out all options. The important thing is for them to try their best and get through all their exams first.
Remind your teenager of how proud you are of their efforts, regardless of the outcome of their exams. A little confidence boost can make all the difference during such a stressful time.
Exam stress tips for parents revolve around one central idea – the parent being the calming presence. Children are incredibly perceptive when it comes to picking up on their parents’ emotions. Two stressed people in the same household will only increase tension and make exams even more difficult. For this reason, make sure you take time for yourself too – relax and reset so you can be there to offer support whenever your teenager needs it.
Is your child still unsure about what type of career they want to pursue? Read our article How to help your teenager decide on a career, to discover how to start the conversation.