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Helping Kids Cope With Exam Stress

Exam stress can be really challenging, not only for kids but those who live with them!

Stressed/upset teen sitting by lockers

When your child faces exams (often scheduled close together), they are under incredible pressure.

They’ll need your understanding and support.

When dealing with exam stress, consider:

  • The words 'pressure' and 'stress' are used interchangeably, but are actually quite different
  • Pressure can be challenging, but positive and motivating overall
  • Stress feels negative and can get in the way of performing well
  • Each child responds differently to exam stress and pressure

What is exam stress? What causes it?

Stress is a negative reaction to excessive pressure or other demands. Exam stress can be caused by:

  • Fear of ‘failure’
  • Pessimism and thinking the worst
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Feeling unprepared
  • Ending or starting a new school year or term
  • Performance anxiety

“Exams can be a challenging part of your child’s life. If they are struggling it can help to talk to a counsellor about what you can do as a parent”

– Belle, Parentline Counsellor

What to expect when exam stress hits

Your child may openly express how stressed they’re feeling. Or they may hold it in and try to cope on their own. These are some signs they may be under stress:

Skin breakouts

Losing touch with friends

Racing heart and sweating

Difficulty making decisions

Mild chest tightness or pain

Nausea or minor stomach upsets    

Blaming others, anger or frustration

Increased smoking, drinking or drug use

Problems going to sleep or waking up

Teeth grinding, nail biting and fidgeting

Feeling or thinking negatively about the future

Feeling cranky and irritable (increased yelling, crying, swearing, lashing out)

How can kids manage their exam stress?

One of the challenges as a parent is that exams are something your child has to do on their own. But you can support them by trying the following:

  • Have realistic expectations and don't push them too hard
  • Be constructive and positive
  • Encourage good sleep patterns and eating habits
  • Provide a quiet space for them to study and prepare 
  • Teach them the importance of study breaks
  • Encourage them to ask the teacher questions if they’re unsure
  • Help them know what to expect on the day of the exam
  • Help them be on time for the exam or arrive early
  • After the exam, listen to their concerns and avoid criticising them

Parenting your child while they are going through exams can be tough

But support is always available for you and your family.

This content was last reviewed 10/05/2018

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