Parents Do Exam Stress Too

Diane Duguid

Wracking your brains over how to support your teenager through heir upcoming exams? The key is to make sure you're looking after yourself in order to best support them through studying, revision and their own potential stress for the best results possible.

Your Sanity

Parents have to provide physical, mental and emotional support.  You’ve been doing this all their lives, the only difference now is the intensity of what you have to do while dealing with your own feelings of powerlessness.

Aim for calm & centred – your teenager is most likely a flurry of emotions right now and they really need a non-judgemental rock.

The stress and disruption to the household impacts everyone.  This is normal, but knowing that is unlikely to stop you feeling the pressure to hold it together for everyone.  Acknowledge the stress may be getting the better of you and take some time out to recharge.  You’ll feel much worse if your teenager ends up bearing the brunt of your bad mood!  Mental health and parenting | NSPCC has some useful tips on coping, and the NHS has come up with these 10 stress busters: 10 stress busters - NHS (

The Environment

Create a suitable study space in the house – sometimes bed should mean sleep, not endless revision notes swirling around their head.

Provide them with some new stationery – highlighters, post-it notes, notebook or whatever, so their study work is entirely theirs and separate from their school work.

Consider a ‘good luck’ charm e.g. crystal, ring, bracelet, lucky pen – it may have the boost they need and reminds them that you’re there no matter what.

Encourage / make available healthy eating, building in study breaks.  Exam Stress | Feelings | Health for Teens is written by the NHS and MIND have an informative site Information for 11-18 year olds – Exam stress - Mind

Pop by with snacks now and then.  They get reminded their safety net is still there but don’t outstay your welcome!  Trust them, they will ask you to help them if they feel you can.

The Revision Period

Now you've built the foundation, it's time to get stuck into revision. Exam revision is unlike any other form of revision your teenager has likely faced before, and the pressure can be intense for everyone. Here are some top tips that can help you both make it to the other side:

Remove the fear.  One of your golden rules is to never countdown or remind the student when the exam is – they know this well enough and are bombarded with it in school already.

Time management is new to teenagers and quite difficult for them to learn to achieve:

Support your teenager creating their own revision timetable – ask if they need help crafting one but trust them, they really do know what they’re doing here! Share it with the household so the other family members can know the times they need to respect this.  See if you can help by gathering resources for them such as printing out past papers.

Normalise taking care of things early - does your teenager appear ‘too chilled’ and possibly planning on last minute cramming?  This is a defence mechanism along the lines of, ‘if I fail, I know it was my lack of revision, not because I am a failure as a person’.  Don’t judge, they need you more than anything now.  See if you can help them find some strategies for getting some of the marks, even on topics they don’t understand too well.

Discourage all-nighters - it undermines performance significantly.  How?  Reassure them you’d be so proud of them if they do most of the exam topics well, rather than crash and mess up a full range of half-hearted topics.

Build in fun breaks together - can you find little 5-minute activities together (e.g. listening to a favourite piece of music, loudly) every now and then to encourage breaks in their studying?  Summon all you have to resist asking how it’s going!

Study alongside your teenager – is there an unpleasant / difficult paperwork task you need to get through – we’re in this together is the message!

If they want to go over something with you - they need you to be their sounding board while they sort out their ideas in their head.  This is the point they’ve nearly cracked it.  Your role is to listen.  Resist the urge to prompt or fill in any gaps for them – if you do, those details will not stay in their heads and they’ll start to lose their confidence that they can actually learn it for themselves.

And Finally

Remind them of how much they’ve already achieved and how proud you are – don’t go overboard though, it’ll backfire!

Aim for a big celebration after the exams, (not the results) – you want to celebrate how proud you are of them giving their best

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