The parent's guide to beating exam stress

Exam time can be a stressful period for parents and teenagers alike. Clinical psychologist Dr Genevieve von Lob offers some expert tips on how best to help your teen overcome exam pre-test anxiety

Teenagers can feel under enormous pressure at exam time, and it’s understandable that they might be moody or irritable, or sometimes feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there’s a lot parents can do to help teens put their fears into perspective and approach the exam season with confidence.

This can be a stressful time for the whole family, so it’s extra important to go a little easier on yourself. If you can remain calm, then you will be much better placed to provide the kind of confident and supportive leadership your child needs. Here are seven tips for helping you and your teen through this testing time:

1.    Be a reassuring presence

Teens can feel a paralysing fear of letting down or disappointing their parents, teachers or themselves, and often assume that their entire future will be determined by how they perform. Challenge any tendency they may have to imagine worst-case scenarios, and remind them that life is full of opportunities, regardless of how they do in exams. Above all, make sure your teen knows your love for them has nothing to do with their grades.

2.    Provide heartfelt praise

It’s easy to forget that teenagers need to feel those expressions of delight over the determination they show, which we may have been more easily expressed when they were little ones. It’s always much better to praise a teen for the effort they are putting in, rather than the outcome – since this will help them develop resilience, even in the face of failure.

3.    Learn to listen

One of the best things you can do for your teen is to make sure they know that you are there for them if they want to talk – and that you’re on their side. Let them vent their frustration if they are struggling with revision or want to rant about an exam that didn’t go as well as they had hoped. Of course, there are times when a teen will want to know what you think, but sometimes giving them an opportunity to feel truly heard will do more good than anything you can say.

4.    Find out what they need

It’s a good idea to ask your teen what practical steps you can take to help them during exam time. Providing a suitable revision space is obviously important, and most teens will appreciate you showing solidarity by bringing them their favourite snacks and drinks when they are up late studying. You may also want to be more lenient with household chores. By providing this kind, nurturing presence, you can model the kind of self-care that will serve them well in later life.

5.    Mini-rewards

We can forget that the prospect of a few months of revision can seem like a lifetime to a teen. Keep reminding them that exam season isn’t forever, and that each piece of revision, and each exam they complete, takes them a step closer to the finish line. Help them to schedule mini-rewards along the way, and talk about things they have to look forward to when it’s all over.

6.    Trust yourself

If we see our teen struggling, it’s all too easy for our ‘inner critic’ to start telling us we’re not doing a good enough job as a parent. Don’t believe what this voice is telling you. Remember to pause for a moment, check in with yourself, and listen to your intuition. The more you learn to trust your judgement, the easier it will be to hear what your ‘inner parent’ has to say.

7.    Take Five Deep Breaths

Whenever you feel stressed, simply breathing in for the count of five and out for the count of five will help calm your whole body down. Taking deep, slow breaths acts like a natural brake on our nervous system, helping us to think more clearly and feel more in control. Teach your teen to take five breaths, too, whenever they feel anxious, particularly during revision or at the start of an exam.

More about the author

Five Deep Breaths

Genevieve Von Lob

'Five Deep Breaths is a lifeline for parents' - Georgia Coleridge

'A wonderful book' - Gillian Anderson

A simple, supportive, down-to-earth guide for real-life parenting.

Every parent is doing the best they can, but there are times when it feels like nothing you do is ever good enough. Everyone seems to have an opinion and there’s no shortage of advice on how to be a better parent. Raising happy, confident, and resilient children is the most important job in the world – but in our fast-paced, twenty-first-century society, the challenges can feel overwhelming and exhausting:

· Do you feel like you’re constantly being judged for the decisions you make?
· Are you forever fretting about whether you’re doing enough to help your child through their problems?
· Are you struggling to navigate your child’s school pressures or the pitfalls of social media?
· Has your home become a combat zone?

If you recognise any of these stress points, give yourself a break: this book really can help you.

In Five Deep Breaths, clinical psychologist Dr Genevieve von Lob draws on her extensive experience with hundreds of families from all walks of life to provide simple, practical support for parents. Based on mindfulness, psychology and neuroscience, this reassuring guide will show you how to be kinder to yourself and trust your own judgement when dealing with dilemmas every parent faces. Examples based on real mums and dads show how to defuse tension, drama and anxiety in the home. Stressed-out parents will discover a sense of confidence, calm and balance – both for themselves and their children.

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