My Son has Exam Stress. Please Help!

Our collaboration with The Lighthouse Arabia is back! The “Ask the Experts” column is your chance to connect directly with experts in the field of child mental health and wellbeing. Anonymity is guaranteed. No names or identifying details will be ever be published.
My Son has Exam Stress. Please Help!
By Jenny Mollon
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With exam season fast approaching, we are delighted to share this fantastic advice on supporting your child through what can be a highly stressful time. With thanks to Dr Saliha Alfridi of The Lighthouse Arabia for this thoughtful response to our latest reader worry.

Do you have a parenting worry that you can’t resolve alone? Do you need support from an expert to help your child? We’ve teamed up with Dubai’s leading mental health and wellbeing centre, The Lighthouse Arabia, to bring our readers regular, anonymous and free access to some of the UAE’s very best child and adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists. 

Dear Ask The Experts,

My son is smart, hardworking and position holder in the school. I feel his school has a very bad framework of exams. It is, test, test and test - mid term, end unit test, monthly test - in 9 subjects! My son is exhausted and tense. He is in Year 6. I am so upset for him but finances mean we do not have the option to change school - how can I help him to cope with this? A Worried Mum

Dear Worried Mum,

It does feel like an overwhelming amount of work for a young child to contend with; however, if you have looked at all your options and do not feel that there is another school he can go to, then it would be important to change your narrative around his experience.

Remind him that its only school and not the whole of his life

Try to balance out his school activities with after-school relaxation, fun, unscheduled activities and activities that remind him that he is a child. Prioritise those activities like play dates equally to his tests and assignments. Such activities are not just good for his social and emotional development but they also allow him to destress and help him build the internal resources to return to his school work.

Change the narrative

This is not just a story about an overworked child, but also a story about a hardworking child who has grit and is bringing his whole self to his work every day. Research shows that it is not the stress that is harmful, but the story we tell ourselves about the stress. Make sure he tells a story about resilience, hard work, dedication, and grit.

Faster, higher, stronger!

This is the motto of the Olympics. Life has put him in a circumstance where he has to show up with a non-negotiable discipline and commitment to his work. He will have to learn early on what it means to be conscious about his time—time to work and time to play. It will also be important that he takes care of his physical and mental health with the utmost consideration because he is under a lot more pressure—sleep, exercise, eating right, staying hydrated, socialising, having downtime, meditation—these will all be practices that he has to learn early on to incorporate in his life.

Emphasise effort more than outcome

Remind him that he is learning some very important life habits—discipline, commitment, grit, hard work—early in life. And those are the most important things—the grades being secondary to his effort. He should do the best he can and not be overly concerned about the outcome. And remember, as a parent, what you do, how you speak about grades vs effort will impact his relationship with his grades.

Be conscious of your emotions

Your child will be picking up on your emotions, your energy, and your story about the amount of work he has to do. If you change your mind-set about his experience, lighten up about the outcomes, and come at the task calmly, you can use your nervous system to help regulate his—its referred to as co-regulation. If you feel sorry for him or stressed for him, inevitability he will internalise your story line.


As a clinical psychologist for the past 13 years, Dr Saliha Afridi has spent 12 years working in the UAE and founded The Lighthouse Arabia in 2011, a community mental health and wellness clinic providing quality psychological and psychiatric care to children, adults, couples and families.

Do you have a question for the team at Lighthouse Arabia? Share it with us HERE. All questions will be treated in strict confidence. Not all questions can be answered, only those chosen by the will appear on the site.

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