Dealing with exam stress for Express Parenting

2019 is here and we are slowly nearing exam time. Stress is building up in children, parents and teachers. Teachers are pressed to complete their curriculum, Children are pressed to cope up with the full year’s curriculum and parents are pressed to make sure their children perform well.

The first thing I would emphasis here is to parents. Exams are not the measure of your child’s success and failure. You need to emphasis this to your children also keep in mind this is not your exam that you need to pass. Your child will sense your anxiety and stress so make sure you are calm and composed. Check on them regularly and do some stress busting activities with them.

A few facts of what stress does to children:

  • Recent brain research shows that when children are highly stressed, the brain literally shuts down.
  • Stress causes a downshift in the brain’s ability to perform.
  • Stress also creates hormonal imbalance

A competitive environment is good, it helps children perform better, but the catch here is we need to also train our children to accept defeat, if any. They need to give in their best and then be content with the result. However if not done right children may experience stress and anxiety which may eventually affect their performance. Most of our education still focuses on rote learning rather than understanding and applying the concepts learnt. However the world around us is changing. Some of the big companies like Google, IBM and more are no longer considering your academic scores for jobs.

As a parent and educator, I cannot stress enough on why and how our children should always feel satisfied. We have to step away from pushing our children into an artificial race from the moment they are born. Best preschool, best birthday party, best school, best teacher and best grades. I have to keep reminding my preschool parents that this is preschool, not university! All of childhood cannot be a protracted process of getting kids ready for university. Let them be children: let them be messy and work things out for themselves. And more than anything else, we have to stop viewing our children as a reflection of us, as parents. Whenever a parent of a young child asks me how many extra classes their child should take, I tell them to be guided by their kids. Don’t enroll your child in various classes so you can tick off a ‘good parent’ box; be guided by your child’s interest. Take time to step back, breathe and participate in your child’s life in a way that develops compassion, intellectual curiosity, resourcefulness, independence, problem-solving ability, stillness and the most important the ability to be alone and enjoy it.

 Parents need to be more compassionate and understand their children. On most occasions children just need a person to hear them out. One thing to keep in mind is you need not get involved in the drama all you need to do is hear your child out and guide them through

  • caring adult can help children deal with stress so they have the energy to learn.
  • Children are usually willing to talk about their concerns and feelings if they trust that an adult will be open, caring, and accepting.
  • You can let a child know you are aware and interested in his / her well-being by saying, “You look like something is troubling you. Would you like to talk about it?”   

Managing Stress

One of the tricks to manage stress is by teaching children techniques to achieve calmness at times of anxiety. I teach kids how to monitor their breathing. I tell them to keep their palms on their stomach and study how they breathe. They should be able to feel their stomach protrude when they breathe in and contract when they breathe out. By learning this, they will be able to calm their stressful energy. This technique works well for adults too.

As part of the self-development plan in our schools, we ask kids to design their life-card. This is a map that helps them to visualize a design of their life. I would start with the question, what do they want from their life? What does this mean in terms of the income they will need the relationships they need to build, the skills they need to develop? This process helps children understand that once they have a design for their future, there is a price to pay. The price is in terms of the discipline they will set for themselves. Focusing on a goal helps children work towards it with no stress.

Dealing with Exam stress is temporary. We need to train children to deal with stress and anxiety in general. Once children are working towards a larger goal, exam stress will not affect them, thereby improving their performance.