Helping your child cope with exam stress

Parents have a crucial role to play for their children at this important time of year.

Whether it’s A-Levels, GCSEs, SATs or end of year testing there is pressure on children to perform at school. They may have the studying, revision and exams to sit but parents should be a vital background support.

Here Merrick Life rounds-up of some of the best tips to beat exam stress and help everyone get through this nerve-wracking period successfully.

Parents’ exam stress tips

The most important way parents or guardians can help children facing exams is by not adding to the pressure and helping maintain a sense of perspective.

In its top tips for parents, The Good School Guide advises: “Remind them that the better they prepare and the more confident they feel in their subject knowledge the less stressed they will feel when the exams start. But by the end of June the exams will be over and it will be the start of the long summer holidays.”

A parent or carer’s role is to help maintain focus. Whether the last test was good, bad or indifferent, put it down and move on to the next one.

Virtually all advice recognises there are other clear parental responsibilities at this time. These include ensuring some basics for young students. Among them are a balanced diet, regular breaks, exercise and wind down time to allow children to get much-needed sleep.

NHS Choices has a checklist of signs of stress and also adds the common sense notion that nerves are natural.

Like many other advice sites it encourages parents to talk about exam pressure with their children. This should be in a calm environment and honesty should be encouraged.


parents' exam stress tips

Parents shouldn’t add to exam stress pressure

‘Unreasonable, annoying and unfair’ has a wealth of positive tips – and some down to earth assessment of how your advice may be received by a teenager.

“It goes without saying that pretty much anything you do and say between now and the exams is ‘Unreasonable, Annoying and Unfair’.”

It urges parents to forego a ‘clip round the ear’ and to summon ‘heroic amounts of sweet voiced calm’.

Once that’s done, it has this useful tip. “….mix the subjects up, so they have a mix of stuff they like/like less on same eve/day. Make a long list of ‘things to learn’; the enormous pleasure of ticking stuff off is not to be underestimated.”

Treats and bribery

Treats are a positive way to keep revision on track. They can be small ones, such as chocolate biscuits after a study period successfully completed. Or larger ones after the testing period is out of the way.

But many experts warn that what isn’t a good idea is ‘bribing’ children to do well in exams. Offering cash or gifts to achieve good grades implies the only worthwhile reward for hard work is money. Instead, encourage your child to do well for their own sake, rather than for cash or to please you. Explain that exams aren’t an end in themselves but a path to the next stage of life. has some wise words for parents who may feel that they know how best to tackle revision.

The last thing anyone needs at a stressful time is an argument. It advises: “Accept that some people can revise better with music or the TV on in the background”.

Pianist James Rhodes has put together this classicial playlist specially for study time.

Family Lives also suggests being lenient about chores and untidiness at this time “as much as you are able”.

parents' exam stress tips

Think positively about exams


Clinical psychologist Dr Genevieve von Lob says it’s natural that parents want their children to do well but it’s important to keep this in context and remember that exam success is not the only route to a happy and successful life.

Fear of failure

She says: “Many teens feel stressed because they feel that their entire future depends on this one chance at getting their grades. If your teen is paralysed by a fear of failure, it can help to talk through their worries to put them into perspective.”

For parents going through a difficult time in their relationship there is the added dilemma about how much a potential break up would affect their children at such a key time.

A Resolution survey of 14 to 22-year-olds asking how a parental break up had directly affected them found that one in five said they didn’t get the exam results they were hoping for.

Also, 15% said they had to move schools, which may have had a knock-on effect on exam results.

Teen resilience

However, many young people are amazingly resilient and able to cope maturely with much more than parents might credit. Have a read of this blog from The Guardian from a teenage A-Level student facing up to her parents’ divorce while tackling her studies.

She reasons: “I feel lucky that it didn’t happen when I was younger and less emotionally well-equipped to deal with it.”

That demonstrates admirable coping skills – and hopefully the resilience to perform well while in a stressful situation.

Do you have any special tips for helping children cope? As parents are there things you wish you’d done better?
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