That time of the year is here, dreaded equally by students and parents alike. The examination season is marked with sky-high stress levels, anxiety, pressure and tension on part of both the students as well as the parents. Parents often feel like it is them who are giving the examination instead of the child. Lives begin to revolve around a flurry of tuitions and tuition teachers, strict time-tables and academics. We as parents believe examinations to be the most important aspect of a child's life to the exclusion of everything else and pass this message along with the tension to the child as well.
With so much perceived to be at stake, it is not surprising that children find themselves experiencing very high stress and anxiety levels. Exam-related depression, black-outs and suicides have become alarmingly common. It is a difficult task for a parent to convey to their children the importance of exams while making sure that they do not add to their children's stress and at the same time handle their own personal anxiety as well. Some of the following tips and pointers should help you get through this challenging time.
Your stress vs your child's stress
One of the most important responsibilities as a parent is to be aware of your anxiety relating to your child's performance. Are you very anxious about your child's academics? It is essential that you do not pass this anxiety on to your child as this can hamper his performance and ability to concentrate. The best way to keep your child stress-free is to be calm yourself.
Good stress vs bad stress
Some amount of stress is important for optimum performance as well as for the ability to focus. An adequate level of stress will enable your child to take his examinations seriously and prepare accordingly. However, you would need to watch out for signs of too much stress that can hamper his performance as well as his physical and mental health. Such children complain of an inability to concentrate, may become irritable or seem depressed and can lose appetite and have sleep disturbances. If you feel your child is unable to cope, it is a good idea to get him/her to speak to a counsellor.
Give space to your child
Each individual has different strategies to study and handle examinations. What worked for you may not work for your child. It is important to give him/her space to figure out what works fbest or him by not interfering in his/her study habits. It is good to provide support and ease anxieties but sometimes as parents in our desire to help them we can come across as over-bearing to the child. During examinations, children often get moody, this is a normal reaction. Giving your child the space to cope and to study is often all that is needed.
Keep it real
Remember that your child is not defined by one result in one examination. Your expectations as parents need to be in line with your child's abilities. Unrealistic expectations are one of the biggest sources of stress in the life of a student. Keep a realistic perspective and provide constant and unconditional support to your child regardless of the exam results. Examinations are nothing but a life-skill to help teach time-management, stress-management, performance under pressure, planning etc. which is so important for later life.
A healthy mind in a healthy body
Eating timely meals, having a healthy diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, keeping away from fried snacks and caffeine in the form of coffee and colas help in keeping the mind and the body alert. It is essential to sleep for at least eight hours to be able to concentrate better. It is a good idea to encourage these habits in your child, especially during examinations.
Provide a quiet & clean ambience to study
The situation in which the child has to study is of a great concern. The parents should play an important role in providing quiet and clean ambience to study. It is difficult for everyone to study in a disturbing environment. Also identify a reliable and good tutor who can assist the child.
Help in maintaining study enthusiasm
To help children maintain a high self esteem of themselves on the verge of their examinations, it becomes highly important for parents to relay highly supportive gestures towards their children. Parents in the process should as much as possible act normal like before and take heed of what their child is doing while refraining from pressurising them to do more.
Examinations are not punishment
In a bid to make sure children study for unrealistic, long hours with full concentration, parents often ban all forms of recreation — TV, games, talking to friends or surfing the net. Such drastic measures and changes in the child's routine can do more harm than good. It is important for the child to have some forms of recreation and to take breaks from studying. Keeping in touch with their friends is in fact a useful way for students to handle stress relating to exams. It is a good idea to keep the environment at home as normal as possible as this helps to ease pressure.
Parents have a huge role to play in managing exam stress in children, especially in today's world of cut-throat competition and pressure on children to perform. It is natural for a parent to want his/her child to have a great result and high performance. It is also natural for a parent to be anxious about his child's performance in examinations to get into that elusive college/university.
However, one of the most important lessons we need our children to learn is that success is a process, not a destination and that it has many definitions, academic results is just one of many definitions of success. Looking at examinations as a learning process and as a life-skill rather than a monster can help free both students as well as us as parents of exam related stress and anxiety.
The writer is Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, New Delhi