How can parents help their children cope with exam stress?

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1. A 11-year-old girl commits suicide, immediately after returning from the exams. She had apparently left a suicide note in her answer-sheet complaining about the school not being supportive, and the syllabus being too heavy.

2. A 10-year-old girl cuts her wrist every time her mother makes her to sit for studies.

3. A 17-year-old boy has lost all the interest in his studies and has lost all hopes ever since his exam dates are announced.

4. A 13-year-old girl is in a state of shock; she has not eaten and spoken for 2 days (since the announcement of her exam dates).

There is a common thread that binds the above mentioned and several other children who are facing similar difficulties. The burden of academic expectation. Expectation from self.

The expectation from self may originate from the parents and be internalized by kids; or at times from the child itself. More often than not, it is a combination of both the factors.

It is good to clarify one very important thing at the outset. It is not at all wrong for parents to expect good performance from their children. In fact, one of the core factors responsible for the development of self-esteem and self-image in children is parental expectations and the way kids meet up to those expectations.

However, it is the manner in which the parents expect from the kids is a source of distress rather than the expectation per se. Expectations which are excessively target driven and pressurizing, coupled with criticality, shaming, and unfair comparison can cause serious injuries to the self-esteem of children.

Expectations which are in keeping with the child’s educational ability, not associated with undue pressure or unfair comparisons; and is associated with periodic reinforcements and rewards, is highly motivating to children. The aim of the parents through their expectation is supposed to be encouraging the child to harness its full potential and not to ‘overtake others’ or get a specific grade. Whereas, the expectations when coupled with shaming of children can hamper their self-image severely.

So, how should parents help their children to prepare for exams…?

  1. Start preparing well in advance for the exams, with a flexible time-table.
  2. Have reasonable expectations.
  3. Always give room for errors and have periodic feedback exercises (in private).
  4. Ensure that they are not shamed and also there are no negative remarks on their ability.
  5. Ensure that there is no unfair comparison with peers/siblings (remember, each child is unique and comparing one with the other, is like comparing apples and oranges).
  6. It is imperative that parents balance their expectations with the child’s ability and couple it with plenty of praises for the efforts itself (NOT JUST THE RESULTS).
  7. Never expect your kids to realise your unfulfilled desire/aspirations.
  8. Always encourage children with words like “you have tried very well now, you can do it better the next time” when your child appears disappointed.
  9. There is a myth that praising a kid will make him/her overconfident. Nothing can be farther from truth. Praise the kid generously. It costs nothing and can only yield good dividends.
  10. Always make the child know that “it is not the end of the world/ end of their dreams” in case they fail to meet expectations.
  11. During the entire process of preparation, ensure your child has been spending adequate time on the extra-curricular pursuits of his/her liking.
  12. Ensure the child has adequate time for relaxation and sleep.
  13. Remember, there is always a scope for improvement, no matter how ‘good’ or how ‘bad’ one performs in an exam.
  14. Go back to the drawing board, always re-strategize your approach.

To sum it up. What we understand is, that children need a supportive approach and a reassurance that they have the backing of supportive parents.
School-age children begin to distinguish ability, effort, and external factors in their attributions for success and failure.
Children who are motivated using positive methods, learn to attribute their successes to high ability and their failures to insufficient effort and hold an incremental view of ability. Children chided with negative techniques attribute successes to external factors, such as luck, and failures to low ability and believe that ability cannot be changed.
Children who experience negative feedback about their ability; messages that evaluate their traits, and are pressurised to focus on performance goals are likely to develop learned helplessness. Caring, helpful parents and teachers who emphasize learning goals foster a mastery orientation.

Also read,

Exam stress on students, peer pressure, and competition.

Anxiety in youth due to competitive exams. Find a therapist near you.

Best parenting strategies that will help your child to succeed in life. Seek help from best parenting counsellors.

Parents Must Be Proactive In Understanding & Assessing Their Children's Mental Wellbeing

How over-parenting affects your child’s mental health?

Image credits - Freepik

Dr. Raghavendra Kumar K
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