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Tips for parents to help reduce junior or leaving cert exam stress

Is your teenager facing into exams for Junior Cert or Leaving Cert?  Here are some tips for parenting the exam student and helping to reduce exam stress:

#1. Remind your teen that they are capable of passing the exam.

They have studied the subject for many years and of course they have the ability to do it.  After all those classes, they have learned so much they are capable of getting through the exam.  But sometimes a gentle reminder helps them to have a bit of self-belief.

#2. Have their favourite food well stocked

Stock up on their favourite food and drink so that you can help ensure they eat regularly.

It might be better to have 5 or 6 well-balanced, smaller meals, such as toast spread with peanut butter, hummus or tuna, or a piece of cheese with fruit rather than 3 large meals that weigh on nervous stomachs.

Blueberries and bananas are good brain foods and make sure they don't skip breakfast.

Related: Skipping Breakfast puts kids on the wrong track

#3. Help them take action if worried

If your teen doesn't understand some of their course material, getting stressed out won't help. Instead, encourage them to take action by seeing their teacher or asking class mates to help them to understand the material.  

#4. Encourage them to take some exercise

Exercise is great for aiding relaxation and helping you to keep calm but during exam time they may feel unable to take much time out from studying. 

Instead of giving up on exercise altogether, encourage them to take small, regular breaks to refresh themselves. For example, a 15-minute brisk walk to the shops and back.  Or walking the dog first thing in the morning or last thing at night before hitting the books again.

#5. Encourage and praise your teen

This approach tends to work better than criticism.  If your teen feels they have not done well in an exam, talk to them about what they have managed in the exam, not what they have missed or forgotten about. 

#6. Deflect the pressure

Encourage your son/daughter to aim to do their best and be assured that it is the effort they make and not the result that makes the difference.  Not getting a top grade does not mean failure and tell them that you will support them because of their effort rather than the results.

#7. Tell them to "Sleep on It"

Encourage your child to review their notes, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up an hour earlier than usual and review the notes again.

Avoid drinks with caffeine such as cocoa, tea and coffee (remember some fizzy drinks such as coca cola contain caffeine).  Discourage the use of energy drinks as these can interfere with sleep patterns.

Try to avoid serving large meals just before bedtime and offer smaller snacks instead with e.g. tuna or turkey which have amino acids which can help calm the brain.

#8. These exams are about them

Remember back to when you were sitting exams and how you felt.  This time is all about how they are feeling and what they are going through, don't take it personally if they "stress" at you.

#9. Ask your teen if you can do anything to help.

Apart from feeding and watering them, can you help go over any of the main points or come up with mnemonics to help them remember them?  Sometimes talking out loud to another person helps them to remember things better.

#10. Make sure that they are organised

Help them get organised with

  • what they need for the exam (calculators, rulers etc)
  • that they know what they are not allowed to take in to the exam (mobile phones, etc)
  • that they have all their dates and times clear in their heads and on your family calendar as well.

Do you have a suggestion for helping avoid exam stress?  Please let us know in the comments section below.  

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