Its that time of year again when parents and children alike are feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the final end of year exams for their children. No matter their age, children’s exams are a fact of life. Whether it’s SAT’s, or GCSE’s, or A’levels, or just an entrance test for your child to get into a great school, children nowadays are being pushed harder and faster than they have ever been before.
HOW TO RECOGNISE THE SIGNS YOUR CHILD IS BEING AFFECTED BY EXAM STRESS
It’s easy to assume that since your child has good grades throughout the year, that sitting a final exam of any kind, will be a piece of cake with them and that they have the knowledge to apply in the exam without studying too much – a bit of revision will reinforce learning, but you think they will be fine. Maybe your child has struggled though their year and has been receiving results that they hoped would be better and they are already anxious about finishing their year with an exam.
Whichever scenario you are faced with, are you sure that you will know if your child’s exam stresses are affecting them negatively or not?
10 SIGNS THAT MAY INDICATE YOUR CHILD IS IN TROUBLE
- Any change in behaviour that is not characteristic of your child – such as loudness if they are quiet, or vice versa, aggression when they are usually calm and laid back.
- Sleep disruptions, – your child is climbing into bed with you a little more than usual or you notice your teen roaming the house a little bit later than normal at night.
- Change in appetite and things your child is craving to eat, such as demanding sugary or carbohydrate foods more.
- Complaints about aches, pains, headaches, muscle tension
- Tearful, grumpy, withdrawn, or distracted behaviour
- Aggression towards a sibling that was absent before or an escalation in arguments in the house
- Comments by your child that their mind went blank while they were studying, or vocalisations that they can’t cope or they are not able to concentrate, or may even tell you they feel stress.
- Chest tightness or fast breathing episodes where your child feels breathless and it hasn’t happened before. They could be accompanied by light headed feelings or even fainting.
- Tummy upsets for no apparent reason or complaints of tummy pain – often in younger children who can’t describe what they feel.
- Refusal to wake up and go to school, or excuses why they don’t want to, such as a sudden sign of illness or an unrelated complaint of difficulty.
HOW CAN NLP TECHNIQUES HELP MY CHILD COPE
NLP is a lot about the right use of positive language and teaching the mind re-programming it as necessary, to create the right mindset to deal with stresses and cope with life.
It is essential that your child builds a positive self image and confidence by being told that THEY CAN, instead of THEY CANNOT. Your child will duplicate what you do so setting a good example of confident self talk for yourself will create that for your child.
CHUNKING things down or cutting things into smaller pieces stops your child being overwhelmed and teaching them to attack one problem at a time is critical.
PATTERN INTERRUPTS, i.e. use of distraction and diversion and even a shock, breaks the loop of doom, when your child can’t see a way out from the circle of stress they are in.
Using associations that help them remember things will help them create strategies that they can use when their mind goes blank in an exam. For example a song, or a colour linked to something, or a phrase you used together.
All these NLP methodologies can help and you can read about them more online and elsewhere, to be better prepared for your child’s behaviour in general as well as exam times.
Here are a couple of examples of helping a younger child and an older child and why these approaches are helpful.
EXAMPLE IN A YOUNG CHILD THAT FINDS IT DIFFICULT TO EXPRESS STRESS OTHER THAN IN A PHYSICAL WAY
For your child, physical symptoms can appear to be real even if you doubt they exist, you have to validate that your child feels them. It is important not to negatively reinforce the behaviour but also to help your child see that the feeling they have can be helped and you understand it.
A fair portion of stress can be relieved by a parent simply acknowledging that their child is suffering and they have a parent on side to help and listen to them. Sympathising with your child’s feelings is good as long as it’s coupled with the right message of support and help available and a lesson in how to best handle things and techniques that are easy for them to use.
For example CHILD: ”I have a tummy pain mum and I don’t think I can go to school”. PARENT: Do you think that tummy pain is there for a reason? Can we think together what may have caused this pain and then we will sort it out together”. This simple communication tells your child, that yes, you believe they have a tummy pain, but that you have not confirmed they will not go to school, you have offered a solution to finding out what’s causing the pain and you have asked them to focus on what’s causing the tummy pain and what’s it’s purpose.
This diverts the child away from an escapist attitude that gives them an impression that you – the parent, will give them exactly what they want out of sympathy. It also signals to them that help is available, however they feel, from a person who believes them, even if it’s not a really real tummy pain but a way of the child expressing how they feel inside.
If you had started with a response such as ”never mind, we will take some medicine and you can go to school anyway”, (which is a common and very valid way that parents respond to tummy pains), what would the difference have been to your child?
Your child will think that you don’t listen or trust what they are saying. Without offering a solution that meets their needs, they will still not be given a coping technique to deal with fears or problems in the future. This is likely to push stress underground in the future, so starting from the youngest age upwards, you have to teach an assessing and coping strategy whilst offering a support structure for the child to hold on to while they gain confidence and ability to cope.
EXAMPLE FOR AN OLDER CHILD WHO KNOWS WHAT THEY FEEL IS STRESS BUT CAN’T COPE
In an older child, you have a good vocabulary to discuss things more and you can also assume the child is slightly more mature and able to be reasoned with.
That does not mean that the child is able to cope better, just that you have a few more tools to use that may help and support.
An older child may have fairly good coping strategies for most things but have a meltdown when exams appear. This is completely normal as the situation of exams escalates your child to levels of responsibility, maturity, organisation, planning, and dealing with success and failure, that most other life situations they are exposed to do not.
In addition your older child or teen, will likely be dealing with a range of hormonal, image, confidence and independence challenges that are normal parts of growing up.
Keeping in mind that most teens nowadays speak another language and that parents can often be seen as ‘out of touch’ at best and ‘completely ancient’ at worst, you need to approach stress in a smart but honest way. With teens an indirect approach often works, where you are doing something completely different, such as cooking together when the subject of upcoming exams and coping can be brought up.
A good conversation starter for a teen, can be a compliment such as ”I’ve seen you working really hard on your studies recently, great job”. Followed up with ”how do you think you are getting on, or I’d like to help wherever I can. Can you give me something to do for you specifically, that will help please”
This communication does several things – first it tells the teen you have noticed them (many teens feel invisible to everyone) and that you see they have been trying hard – the compliment gives them recognition for effort, even if they don’t feel they have put in the effort, they feel you know they will and it may encourage them to do just that!
The question shows your teen that you are treating them on the same level as another adult by casually asking them for their feedback or input. This escalates their confidence by showing them that you can listen to their opinions and ideas about something rather than forcing your opinion on them or deciding for them.
This in turn creates trust and warms up the communication pathways. The offer of them telling you exactly how to help and give you a job, satisfies their sense of still being in control and the idea of help coming form them where it can be specific and useful.
It may seem like a simple starting point but as many teens are close mouthed about everything going on in their lives, getting the starting point on an even footing is critical. Continuing with questions that seek out answers from them rather than telling them how to do things is the next best step as well as using positive and reinforcing language along the way.
OTHER WAYS TO HELP
Use open questions and praise, such as ‘how did you answer that math’s question so quickly, I’ve always wondered how that problem was solved, you are really good at this. Follow up with can you show me how to do it? Teens love to be trusted to teach something as much as adults do. This indirectly gets them practicing the maths questions more and empowers them and reinforces memory by repetition in an indirect way.
Make things light and fun – if it’s English they are struggling with, make up silly creative word sentences in fun way, such as with a silly accent mimicking another member of the family using words, or spelling them out in rhymes or rap etc. Even teens under stress, love the relief of being a bit childish again!
Teach your teen to have positive self talk by using the language with them that you want them to use with themselves. This increases confidence and self image. For example – ‘you have always been such a creative person, even since you were young and that’s a talent that has stayed with you’, or ‘ some of the most lovely things about you are your individuality and compassion for others and your hard work approach. Not everything has to be 100% truthful but if your child is 1% of those things, TELL THEM it positively, that way you will encourage more of those things.
Offering outright help or taking over tasks such as making a study schedule etc, to a teen can be seen as interference and your teen may want to show you that they are able to do things alone. Help in other ways so that they have the time and space and peace at home to study and create the environment that encourages it rather than always intervening. Don’t interfere with the way they study as each child is different and there is no one right way to study – its personal.
If they ask for help – NEVER refuse. Find a way to fit in the time to do even a short amount and if you are like me – and are out of date with some methods of study, the internet is a great resource you can look to for solutions together online that will help with study methods. Teens love youtube and other social media and there are great learning techniques to be found in the endless video posts of other students and teachers alike. Embrace the technology available that can help and get on your teens wavelength.
Plan healthy meals, keep younger siblings out of the way of your teen or let them help in their own way such as writing notes for your teen whilst they study, if they are old enough and good writers, or help you make the teen a delicious treat you know they will love and will make them feel cared for.
Make a study schedule with your teen, directed by them but encourage lots of time outs and break outs where you get out of the house or just out of the routine for a while. Physical exercise relieves stress and keep your teen fed and watered. A hungry teen is a grumpy teen and they will study through and forget their body needs. This will lead to burn out and lack of concentration – not a good study cocktail.
Wind down and relaxation before bedtime is essential for good sleep. If you have relaxation music or apps on your phone – this is the time to introduce them to your child or encourage them to start.
There are some times when your older child just needs you beside them quietly in the room. Take a book, or something quiet to do and just hang out with them inputting when they ask you and being ‘available’ just for moral support and feedback.
These are just a few tools in the parenting box that you can use to help beat exam stress the smart parent way. NLP techniques work extremely well for exam support and general stress as well as communication with others and you can book an appointment here for a check up, or an exam stress busting NLP session, if you feel it would help you.