At the first company I worked after graduation, a significant number of my colleagues were parents. As a single 20-something, I found their banter about family life entertaining and it made office lunches a lively affair. However, at around the same time every year – typically early May and October – many of them would suddenly switch from chatty and jovial to quiet and sometimes even snappy. I couldn't understand it. One of them put it down to exams, which made me even more puzzled. Being naive, I thought these people were way past the age for exams. “They’re stressed over their children’s exams,” the colleague clarified.
Whenever exams come around, it’s not just students but also parents who become stressed. So, how can kids and their parents go from stressed to steady pom pi pi during exam season?
How stress affects the physical and mental wellbeing of students and parents
Whether your child is a straight-A student or below-average performer, they may experience exam stress, which could stem from the pressure to meet their own and your expectations, an overly competitive environment in school and among their friends, as well as sheer anxiety over tests and exams. While stress can be beneficial and motivate children to excel, too much of it can hurt their physical, mental and emotional health.
As the exam season draws near, concerned parents like you may also be stressed about how your child will fare, whether they need help, and how their results will affect their future (or your vision of it). I’ve known parents who think it’s almost a moral obligation for them to do everything they can to help their kids ace a test, to the extent of mastering entire school textbooks themselves. Some parents have even thought about attending tuition classes so they can help their kids with homework and revision. While parental support is important in your child’s educational journey, it’s sometimes hard to draw the line between being supportive and being a helicopter parent.
In the long term, your anxiety over your child’s performance in school can affect your child’s attitude towards learning and put a dent in your relationship with each other. Not to mention that it can also affect other aspects of your life such as your health, relationship with other family members and your work performance. It's important to prioritise your mental wellbeing.
Signs and symptoms of stress
Stress manifests differently in children and parents, and it may not always be obvious in its initial stages. Thus, it’s important to recognise the signs of stress and watch for them so that you can take early steps to help your child or yourself (or maybe even a relative or colleague who may appear stressed over their child’s school performance).
Signs of study and exam stress in kids:
- sudden loss of interest in what they used to enjoy like toys or being with friends
- lack of motivation to revise or complete assignments, e.g. feeling lethargic and giving excuses to miss classes
- moodiness that's not usual
- having butterflies in the tummy, poor appetite, a racing heartbeat or need to throw up
Signs of exam stress in parents:
- trouble with anger management which may include being impatient
- feeling more jittery than usual, e.g. checking in with teachers over minor issues
- poor sleep, headaches and increased heartbeat
- inability to focus on work and neglecting other family members
The table below shows some of the signs of studies-related stress that students and parents may display.
Ways to manage exam and study stress
Stress isn’t always a bad thing and like any other challenge in life such as a test or work presentation, it’s normal to feel anxious during the exam period. If you notice signs of stress in your child or yourself, it’s important to address them before the problem gets out of hand. So, how do you go from stressed to steady pom pi pi, as we say in Singapore? Read on for my STEADY method to manage study stress or just refer to the infographic below.
If your child feels stressed...
Share your own exam and schooling experiences.
Teach your child to set realistic expectations.
Encourage them to sleep and eat at regular times.
Assure your child that they are loved for who they are.
Do whatever they like during study breaks.
You did it! Celebrate their effort.
If you feel stressed...
Speak to someone who understands what you're going through.
Toss out any unhealthy practices.
End each day with a relaxing ritual.
Ask for back-up when you need it.
Do fun things with your child even while exams are on.
You did it! Pat yourself on the back when it's all over.
Now you know how to manage exam stress? Steady pom pi pi!
Exams need not always be a time for stress and strained relations between you and your child. They should be the time when you show your love for your child by supporting them, helping them develop good study habits and reminding them that it’s the learning journey, not the exam results, that matters.
Exams are one of the many ways your child learns to navigate life’s challenges, and by helping them take the correct approach and teaching them coping techniques, they’ll be more mentally, physically and emotionally ready for the next big challenge. Should exam stress get to you or your child, speak to a doctor about it.