Supporting children during exam time

It’s the time of the year when most of our children are appearing for exams. Examinations evoke a myriad of emotions in both children as well as in parents. 

Coming from their own conditioning, parents tend to push their children to do well in exams. They want to protect their children from facing failure and disappointments. Very often in our workshops, parents share how anxious they feel when their children resort to last minute and half hearted preparation for exams. They get frustrated when they see them not studying seriously despite reminders. Parents worry about their children’s prospects of getting admission into a good college should they fare badly in exams. Having all these big feelings, parents often find themselves shouting, nagging, threatening, lecturing, hitting, and pleading in the pursuit to get their children to study. 

Conversely, children too are going through a roller coaster of emotions. They may be tensed, overwhelmed or even regretful of not having prepared earlier, making them feel fearful before exams.

When one feels anxious, a hormone called Cortisol is released in the brain. This shuts the brain down, making certain parts of the brain responsible for logic and decision making inaccessible. The survival instinct of fight, flight or freeze kicks in. Of Course, each child is unique and will react differently. For example,

Fight: Some children may get defensiveand say- “It is my life, you don’t tell me what to do.” “Why should I listen to you?” 

Flight: Some children may react by pushing the issue under the carpet. They might completely avoid facing up to the fact that examinations are approaching and instead focus all their time and energy on to non exam related issues.

Freeze: Some children may draw a blank – so they might be sitting in front of books, but are unable to focus or concentrate on studies. They are not able to learn or apply themselves.

 Already being in a heightened state of emotion, harsh reactions from parents add to the children’s anxiety. This vicious cycle carries on, putting more and more stress on children and they are unable to concentrate on studies. To support our children through exams, we need to break this cycle. 

The first step is, to realise, that every child is working towards his own development. Every child wants to succeed and score good marks. Being labelled as lazy, irresponsible or a failure is discouraging. To be able to help our children we need to make a shift from the belief that “my child is playful and irresponsible, he will not work hard” to “my child wants to do well. What is deterring him from doing so?” 

When we parents take a pause to observe and identify what is holding our child back, then we will be able to get to the root of the problem. Being aware of the block our child is facing helps us connect with her feelings and provides us cues about how we can help. For e.g. If our child finds a particular subject challenging, we could guide them to make notes, see educational videos together or seek help from teachers at school. We could also help our child formulate answers, explore using flash cards and mind maps to memorize important concepts. There are many study tools available to help a child learn and prepare for exams. Also, taking short breaks to indulge in other interests such as sports, art or music keeps children refreshed to get back to their exam studies.

The key is to understand where our children need support as this helps us guide them to cope with the exams rather than add to their stress.


Author: Sunitha.R is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.