Examination stress is part and parcel of a child’s journey of growth in the competitive society of Singapore. While academic success is important, helping our child or youth to maintain physical and mental wellness will help in improving their performance in their studies as well as other areas of their life.
How do I know when my child may be having difficulties managing their stress?
Children and teens may present with physical or emotional challenges when they are faced with high stress:
- Physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches not linked to any medical condition
- Difficulties in concentration and memory
- Not wanting to go to school
- Low motivation, energy and mood
- High anxiety
- Problems with digestion
- Trouble sleeping
- Higher irritability (getting into arguments and fights or being more snappy)
How can stress impact my child?
Cortisol (a hormone) is produced in our body that helps maintain daily body functions such as regulating your blood pressure and your sleep/wake cycle, and boosts energy so that you can manage stress and restore balance afterwards. After the stress and pressure passes, our heart and blood pressure returns to normal as cortisol production also eases. As cortisol prepares the body to react in danger, it can also shut down body systems that get in the way such as the digestive system, immunity system and growth processes in the body. When the stress level remains high for prolonged periods, the effect can be the physical or emotional problems stated above. High levels of pressure and stress may be counterproductive as it takes the resources that could be used by the brain to learn and grow and prepares the body to respond to the perceived threat.
What can I do to help my child with exam stress?
- Talk to your child about how they are feeling and what they are thinking about the upcoming exams to let them know that you are open to talk to them and they can come to you for help and support.
- Practice co-regulation with your child
- Calm down
- We understand that parents care a lot about their children’s wellbeing and performance and can sometimes also be anxious and stressed out about how their child is doing at school. Being calm and collected helps us to make better decisions about how we may want to relate to our children and handle and help them with their challenges.
- Children are watching their older loved ones in the way they respond to feelings and situations and they learn quickly about what is the socially acceptable way to respond to a situation. Hence, we can model how we would like them to respond to their stressful situation.
- Label, acknowledge and validate feelings
- Help your child name what they are feeling
- Acknowledge that it is valid to be feeling that way given what they are going through. Whatever your child is feeling is valid and it is truly the way they feel given their personalities, history and perceptions. Remember, feelings are neutral, it is what we do with these feelings that makes the difference (this is what we want to teach children)!
- Show warmth and support
- Talk to your child about “What are some things that you can do or we can do together to make it feel a little better?”, show that you are together with them to see them through. Just your moral support alone can go a long way for your child to know that they are not alone in facing whatever that feels scary for them ahead.
- Discuss what are some things your child can do to feel better in future if they feel the same way. This helps to extend your child’s learning on managing their emotions to other situations in their life.
- Calm down
- Set and encourage your child to practice and follow consistent routines including study time, leisure time and taking breaks. Following a routine helps your child to know what to expect and prepare themselves mentally to complete the tasks they need to and minimise the need to use up additional resources in the body to adapt to changes and unfamiliar situations.
- Younger children may need more structure and directed help from parents while older children may need more discussions and support. This is because older children have begun to develop a sense of their own thinking and are at the phase of exercising and practising decision making.
- For older children or teens, it can be helpful to converse with them about what they think would be helpful for them and how they hope for parents to support them. This also gives opportunity for increased understanding between the teen and parents and for parents to provide guidance.
- Having leisure time and breaks help create spaces for your child to relax and relieve the tension that has been building up from the multiple demands in life, regulating the cortisol levels in the body.
- If you or your child still have difficulties managing stress levels and the impact of stress affects your child’s daily functioning activities, you may want to consider speaking to a professional counsellor or therapist for help.
Perry, B. (n.d.). Resources. Retrieved Sep 23, 2022, from Beacon House: https://beaconhouse.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/The-Three-Rs.pdf
WebMD. (2020, Dec 13). What Is Cortisol? Retrieved from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol