Supporting A Child's Stress and Exam Concerns

With the I/GCSE and A Level exam period approaching, it is common for children to experience anxiety. sought tips and suggestions from King's InterHigh, one of the UK’s leading online schools, on how parents can support their children during this time.
Supporting A Child's Stress and Exam Concerns
By Lyn Soppelsa
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With their online school available to families in Singapore, KSA, the UK and the UAE, sought advice from leading on-line school, King's InterHigh, on how parents can support their children, not only at exam time - though it is that time again for many students currently - but throughout the year.

According to recent research conducted by online school King's InterHigh, a staggering 93% of parents in the UK report that their child has felt stressed or anxious about exams. This anxiety is not limited to exams alone but often extends to everyday schoolwork and termly grades.

Recognising and understanding academic and exam anxiety is crucial.

It refers to the stress, worry, and fear that many students experience regarding their schoolwork, grades, and assignments. Exam anxiety, in particular, causes excessive distress related to I/GCSEs,  A Levels or other international or local examinations. These anxieties may diminish as school pressures ease, but for many young people, they can significantly impact their well-being, leading to issues such as low self-esteem and difficulty coping with daily life. Furthermore, academic anxiety can create a vicious cycle where the constant preoccupation with performing well hinders focus and learning, resulting in further decline in grades.

Distinguishing between normal stress and serious anxiety is important. While occasional stress over exams and grades is normal, anxiety is more intense and long-lasting, significantly interfering with a child's daily life.

Here are some signs King’s InterHigh have suggested to look out for that may indicate your child is experiencing excessive anxiety:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained headaches and physical pains
  • Sleep or eating difficulties
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Social withdrawal
  • Frequent procrastination
  • Obsessive perfectionism
  • School avoidance or panic attacks in severe cases.

Academic anxieties can stem from various sources, making them incredibly common among students.

Some of the reasons for school-related anxieties include:

  • High academic expectations from family and teachers
  • Competitive school environments and peer pressure
  • Increased difficulty level with each academic year
  • Struggles with organisation, preparation, and time management
  • Lack of support from teachers and the school.

Exam anxiety shares similar root causes but is compounded by factors such as:

  • Fear of failure and not getting into university
  • Previous poor exam performance
  • Heavy revision schedules and last-minute studying
  • Test conditions, including time constraints and difficulties understanding question structure.

Anxiety triggers can be further heightened for neurodivergent students with ADHD, autism, and other special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). These learners already face challenges with focus, organisation, and communication, often feeling misunderstood and unsupported in mainstream schooling. These factors can intensify their stress around school.

Here are five tips from King's InterHigh to support your child in managing academic anxiety:

  1. Foster healthy study habits:
  • Create a study schedule with manageable time slots and breaks.
  • Break tasks into smaller, more achievable portions.
  • Encourage active learning strategies, like summarizing and teaching material to boost confidence in understanding.

2. Cultivate a supportive home environment:

  • Encourage open communication and reassure your child that there are ways to reduce stress.
  • Celebrate their efforts to boost self-esteem and motivation.
  • Promote a balanced lifestyle, including regular exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep.
  • Establish a quiet study space to minimize distractions, which is especially beneficial for neurodivergent students.

3. Instil resilience and confidence:

  • Teach your child that problems can be solved, and challenges can be overcome.
  • Foster a growth mindset, viewing mistakes as opportunities for learning rather than signs of inadequacy.
  • Employ cognitive behavioural techniques to challenge irrational worries.

4. Practice mindfulness:

  • Guide your child through breathing exercises to centre their thoughts and promote calmness.
  • Encourage nature walks to disconnect from anxious thoughts and find peace.
  • Introduce the practice of journaling to help children express themselves.

5. Utilize online resources:

  • Explore educational websites like Khan Academy and Quizlet, which offer personalized learning and effective revision tools.
  • Use organisational tools such as Google Calendar or Todoist to help your child manage time and set achievable goals.
  • Consider relaxation apps like Headspace and Calm, which provide guided meditation and mindfulness exercises for stress reduction.

If your child's anxiety persists despite these efforts, it may be necessary to seek professional help.

Approach your child's school for support, as they play a vital role in addressing academic anxiety. Request a meeting with your child's teacher, the school's pastoral lead, or the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) to discuss your concerns and explore strategies to assist your child. Inquire about Individual Education Plans (IEPs) that can support children with anxiety, as well as exam accommodations such as Access Arrangements. Many schools also provide mental health resources, including counselling services and stress workshops.

For severe cases of academic anxiety, consult your child's doctor for additional professional mental health support.

In some instances, traditional school environments may not be the most conducive for anxious students. Online schools like King's InterHigh can offer a personalized and flexible learning experience, catering to the unique needs of anxious learners. These schools provide accommodations and initiatives to help reduce anxiety and promote well-being, such as cycle testing and access to recordings of live lessons. Additionally, students can benefit from resources like exam stress workshops provided by online schools.

Remember, supporting your child through academic anxiety requires a multi-faceted approach, involving both home and school environments, as well as professional assistance when needed. By implementing these strategies and seeking appropriate support, you can help your child navigate academic challenges with a sense of positivity and confidence.

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