Exams. Just the word makes your heart sink a little, doesn’t it? Whether you’re the parent of a child who is approaching end of year exams, or a child faced with the looming deadline of exam day, there’s no getting away from the fact that exams can be pretty stressful.
As parents, we naturally want to do all we can to help our kids navigate exam time smoothly. We want to be there to support revision, provide reassurance, and help them perform to the best of their ability.
But it’s easy to let worry and doubt creep into our thoughts too. How exactly should we be supporting our child’s revision? Are we putting too much pressure on them? Is it better to adopt a laid back, what will be will be approach, or will that mean they feel unsupported? Is their school doing enough to prepare them? Or is school putting too much pressure on them for the sake of league tables? What if we don’t understand the subject ourselves and they need help?
Here are some practical ideas for supporting children in the run-up. Every child is different, and every child learns and performs differently, so use these tips alongside your knowledge of your own child’s age, ability and learning style to help you work with them to form the approach best suited to them.
A calm home
Familiarity is reassuring, especially in times of stress.
It’s hard hiding your own worry if you start to see your kids getting stressed around exam time but if you can, stick to your normal family routine and maybe mix in some extra reassuring hugs. If things seem "normal" rather than in panic mode at home, children will hopefully pick up on the message that everything is perfectly fine and be able to view exams in perspective, rather than as the be all and end all.
Good food, good sleep
This is an area where parents can really make a big impact in the weeks running up to exams, without feeling like they’re interfering too much. Try to provide your child with a balanced diet, and be mindful of the increased lure of junk food at times of stress; lots of healthy snacks on-hand is the way to go.
When it comes to sleep, encouraging a routine which allows for plenty of quality sleep will help keep minds sharp. This is easier to achieve with younger children, but do try and encourage older kids to stick to a similar bedtime each night. Keep an eye on late study too; ideally the books should be closed at least an hour before bed to allow time to unwind.
Make time for fun
Endless hours studying without a break doesn’t just take it’s toll on productivity; it can also be very isolating. Arrange some family time when everyone can relax and take their minds off work; it could be a walk, a movie, a day out, whatever works for you.
It’s also a good idea to ensure your child still has plenty of non-studying time with their friends as exams approach. We’re back to familiarity and routine here, and peers can give an extra level of support to that provided by parents and teachers.
We all need to voice our concerns when things get too much, and simply allowing your child to confide in you can be a huge help to them. It’s pretty likely that they’ll be worried about not doing well, so be prepared to handle this positively. Avoid talking about their performance in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’; instead talk about the fact that they’re going to do their best and you’ll be proud of them for this, regardless of the result.
Regular exercise is a great stress-buster, so it's worth aiming to help your child fit it into their pre-exam routine. If your child isn't the sporty type (mine aren't!), even a brisk walk will do. As well as providing a great way to let off steam, it will re-energise their brains and help with sleep too.
If you feel that your child could benefit from extra support in a particular subject, private tuition such as that provided by Fleet Tutors can be a good option.
A personal tutor will identify the areas that need support, and tailor a tuition programme to your child’s needs and learning style. This allows them to focus not only on reinforcing learning, but also things like exam practice, motivation and confidence building. Using a private tuition agency makes the job of finding a personal tutor simple; they do the hard work of collating background information such as employment history, references and DBS checks on all their tutors, for you to review on request. You can read more of my tips on choosing a tutor here.
Incentivise, but wisely
We all know that offering a reward for effort or performance is a handy tool for encouraging children, but when it comes to academic performance, rewards need to be handled carefully.
Offering money or gifts for good results can work for some, but you might find it backfires if the child feels that you don't have faith in them to motivate themselves without bribery, ultimately impacting upon their sense of self-worth, and potentially setting a difficult precedent to maintain in day to day parenting.
A more sensible approach is to use small treats to encourage your child during this period of hard work - not tied to results, but as a celebration of efforts made. Think of these as little lifts to get them over tricky hurdles, rather than big, meaningful gestures. A trip to the coffee shop after a hard day’s revision, a break from their chores the day before a particularly dreaded test, or a trip to the cinema at the end of exams are all great options, and obviously you can tailor them to your own child’s interests.
Yes, exams are important, and of course we want our children to perform to the best of their ability. But your child’s happiness and success in life does not depend solely on them - even if it feels like that at the time! Try to show your child that you have a sense of perspective about exams, and they’ll be encouraged to do the same.
Navigating your child through exams can feel like a test of endurance at times, but by considering a variety of ways to support them you’ll be better prepared to react to their needs, as well as standing a much better chance of keeping the whole family on an even keel throughout.
Of course, no amount of advice can replace the knowledge that you have of your own child, so I'd recommend using / ignoring whichever of these tips feels right for you. Trust your instincts and you’ll do a great job.
This is a commissioned post for Fleet Tutors. Images via Shutterstock © Maya Kruchankova, racorn, Jasminko Ibrakovic, Monkey Business Images, doble.d, Odua Images, www.BillionPhotos.com and Antonio Guillem.