Parenting Tips from the Professionals: How to cope with exam stress?

Parenting Tips from the Professionals: How to cope with exam stress?

Want to help your child cope with exam stress? Parenting coach and author Nadim Saad from Best of Parenting gives us expert advice on how to help children manage anxiety about exams.

It’s totally normal for children to feel stressed about exams, as there is a lot of pressure on them to perform. And it is difficult for them to cope with this kind of stress at a young age. 

As parents, we can also often fall into the role of the ‘nagging parent’, as we want our children to do their best, but they may not appear as motivated as we’d like them to be. The issue with this is that our children may feel that the exam is more important to us than it is to them, and they can start dismissing what we tell them. To prevent this, we need to have their ‘buy-in’ and make sure that they feel that we are there to support them rather than impose things on them. 

Here are a few quick tools that you can use to help your children cope better with exam stress and let them know that you’re here to support them. 

1. Acknowledge their feelings

Firstly, it’s essential that you acknowledge your child’s emotions, without trying to minimise what they are feeling. So try to avoid telling them ‘not to worry, you’re so good at this’ or ‘it’ll all be okay’, as this won’t make their emotions disappear. It’s more likely that they’ll shut down and start hiding their feelings from you. 

It’s better to start by acknowledging their concerns by saying “I hear that you’re worried about your exams” or ‘You seem to think that you’re not good at this’, and then let them know that you’re here to help them through whatever they may be feeling. 

Then, try asking “What do you think you could do to help you feel less stressed about the situation?”. The answer will usually be “I need to practice more”, which is exactly what you want to achieve: make them responsible for their learning. 

You can also offer them the ABC tool explained below; this can work wonders if they are prone to being stressed in an exam situation.

2. Use ABC 

When children feel overwhelmed by their emotions, this can lead to panic. When kids are in the ‘panic zone’, this affects their ability to think clearly, to take in new information and to be rational about a situation. And this is the last thing they need when they need to focus on revising, or when they are in an exam situation. 

By teaching your child how panic can affect their thinking, they can start to recognise the warning signs and take active steps to prevent from becoming overwhelmed and engage their brain into ‘learning mode’. 

A very effective way to achieve this is by using the ABC tool:

A is for Awareness: that they are in panic mode or that they are having a negative thought.

B is for Breathing: they need to take deep breaths (from the tummy) for a minute or two, 4 breaths in and 6 out, and focus their attention on their breath.

C is for Challenge and Change: they need to challenge their negative thoughts: eg. ‘I’m going to fail this exam’, ‘I’m not clever enough’, and they then need to find a strategy that will help them feel less panicked about the situation.

Some examples of strategies that can help kids’ revision are:

  • To split the information into smaller, digestible chunks – this way they’re less likely to feel overwhelmed by the amount of things they need to learn. 
  • And if they stumble on a task or question, particularly during an exam, teach them to skip it and come back to it later on – this helps them stay in learning mode rather than start to panic. 

3. The Power of ‘Yet’ 

Teaching a child to challenge their internal dialogue by thinking more positively takes time and isn’t something that will happen over night, which is why it’s important to work consistently with your child to build their confidence. 

A good place to start is to correct them when you hear them say ‘I don’t understand X’ or ‘I’m no good at Y’.  Ask them to add ‘yet’ to the end of their sentence. For example, “‘I am not good at maths YET’ or “I can’t understand this exercise YET”. This simple tool is really useful to make them realise that they have control over the situation and that if they put effort into something, they are going to get much better at it.  

If your child tends to say that they are not good at some things, they are likely to have a ‘fixed mindset’. In this case, it’s important to work with them to develop a growth mindset, which is the belief that they can achieve anything if they work hard at it.

You can use the tools above to help your children develop a growth mindset, and you can also find plenty more tools in Nadim Saad’s book ‘Raising Confident Kids’. 


Nadim Saad is a Parenting Coach and the co-author of five books including the highly acclaimed 'Kids Don’t Come With a Manual'.  Nadim also created the ‘Happy Confident Me’ workshops for children with the help of experienced psychotherapists, to develop children’s emotional intelligence, confidence and reduce their stress.

Website | Twitter @bestofparent | Facebook @BestofParenting | Instagram @bestofparenting 


Released On 17th Jan 2019

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