Unfortunately, exam stress can be felt very early on. Children as young as 10 might feel anxious about sitting entrance exams for secondary school, or even simply their KS2, year 6 SATs.
According to a survey cited by the The Guardian, 82% of primary school leaders said there was an increase in mental health problems amongst primary school children during exam time.
Some parents are under the impression that if they don’t put any pressure on their children to perform to a certain standard, then their children will not struggle with exam stress. The truth is, a lot of the time, a child will put that stress on themselves; by comparing themselves to their peers and wanting to please their teachers.
When exam stress is ignored, it can often lead to panic attacks and longer-term mental health problems. If you notice your child seems more stressed than usual, it’s time to step in.
Speak With Their Teacher
The first step to take is to speak with their teacher and express your concerns. A good teacher will always reassure children that trying their best is good enough, however, sometimes it falls on deaf ears. If your child’s teacher can take some time out to speak with them directly this reassurance might be better received.
Time to Relax
Encourage time to relax. If your children have busy schedules with after school clubs or weekend activities, it might be time to reduce these and encourage some downtime. Of course, you don’t want to take away something your child genuinely loves doing, so speak to them first and see what they think. Let them know it’s okay to take a break; many children fear that they will fall behind in extracurricular activities, or they won’t be picked for the sports team if they skip a class. It’s your job and the job of their coach/teacher to alleviate this added worry.
Eating well is crucial at a time of stress. Good nutrition, good sleep and exercise are all crucial areas to overcoming low mood and stress. Make sure your child isn’t skipping meals and filling up on sugary snacks. We all know how easy it is to turn to comfort foods, but we must not overindulge them out of pity.
Encourage openness about the anxiety and stress your child might be feeling. Talking about something and openly acknowledging what your child is going through, helps them to process their own feelings and develop coping mechanisms.
Whether your child is under 10 sitting entrance exams, or 16 sitting GCSE’s the pressure can feel the same for your child at that time. If the stress doesn’t improve after exams, or it becomes a bigger problem then it might be time to speak with a doctor. See if your GP recommends CBT or other forms of therapy to help reduce stress and anxiety. You can self-refer for many different mental health support programmes, but it’s worth speaking with a doctor first.