Danielle BarfootBy Danielle Barfoot, mom to a boisterous pre-teen and Communication Manager at Impaq Education, a curriculum provider for home, tutor and school education.

Your usually upbeat child is cranky and irritable, she has suddenly acquired a string of ailments, and bedtime has become a battle with her yelling, crying and refusing to go to sleep. No, she has not reverted to the terrible two’s or entered the trying teens (although that will undoubtedly make matters a little more intense) – she is about to write her mid-year exams!

Exam stress, like most stress, mainly comes down to feeling out of control. While you can’t change the situation (exams are, after all, a part of life), there is a lot you can do to help your child prepare:

  • Plan: If you haven’t already done so, sit down with your child to create a realistic study programme. (While older children should be encouraged to draw up their own schedule, younger ones will need some help.) Make sure she knows what she is supposed to learn and that she has all the required notes and books. Also consider the volume of work, as well as which subjects she may need to spend some extra time on.

Tip: Don’t plan study sessions of more than 45 minutes at a time.

  • Revise: Planning to study is easy, but actually doing it is hard. However, the sooner your child starts to revise, the easier – and less stressful – it will be. Revising early will also help her identify any problems or work she finds difficult, enabling her to ask for help.

Tip: Ask your child’s teacher or look online for past papers or revision worksheets.

  • Make space: Create a space dedicated to studying, but tailor it to your child’s learning style. While almost any environment can be comfortable and suitable for studying, the ideal is for children to study where there are minimal distractions. Also ensure that your child has all the tools she needs, e.g. stationery, paper, notebooks, etc.

Tip: A few new pens and a crisp notepad may inspire and motivate your child.

exam stress

  • Stay healthy: It is essential that your child eats a healthy, balanced diet, that she stays hydrated, and that she gets plenty of rest before and during the exams. Also encourage her to stay active – it will improve her concentration and her sleep.

Tip: Smart snacking can enhance studying, so keep healthy snacks on hand.

  • Relax: Stressing over studying is counterproductive, as a stressed child can’t concentrate or remember what she is studying. To encourage relaxation, make sure your child takes part in activities to unwind, such as reading, meeting friends or playing sport. Music and art, in particular, are effective in relieving stress and reducing anxiety.

Tip: Shift the focus from studying by joining your child in a fun activity.

  • Offer support: When preparing for the exams, help your child to set realistic goals, then offer the necessary support and encouragement to help her achieve those goals.

Tip: Knowing you are supportive of her hard work, may motivate her to put in a greater effort.

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