How to reduce your child’s exam anxiety

Although the magnitude of exams vary from year to year, the pressure of performing well can often cause unwanted stress and anxiety, at any age.

What is anxiety?

In order for you to provide effective support for your children, it is important that you understand anxiety. Regardless of the source of the anxiety, whether it be an upcoming school exam, a performance in the school musical, or the stress of trying to ‘fit in’ at school, the symptoms are often the same. These typically include:

• Heart palpitations
• Increased breathing rate
• Dizziness
• Sweating
• Nausea
• Intrusive and persistent thoughts
• Constant feelings of apprehension and worry

Anyone who has ever experienced a form of anxiety will testify that these symptoms often cause a lot of distress and can become overwhelming and debilitating if they are allowed to take over.

According to Youthrive Clinical Psychologist, Dr Kelly Bowers, anxiety often becomes problematic when it begins impacting several areas of your child’s life, stopping them from doing things that they enjoy.

“Symptoms of anxiety can often begin to ‘snowball’ as other areas, such as social relationships, begin to be impacted. The good news however is that there is a high success rate in the treatment of anxiety disorders through psychological intervention. The key is to recognise the symptoms and then seek support as early as possible,” he said.

Five tips for reducing your child’s stress and anxiety

1. Help them get prepared
During exam time, you can make your child’s job easier by helping them get organised. For example, you can help your child by preparing a study timetable that distributes available study time between all of their classes. If your child appears to be struggling with one particular subject, encourage them to take a break from that subject and move on to the next one. It is not uncommon for children to go to sleep not understanding a concept, and then waking up the next day with renewed clarity. It may also be a good idea to email your child’s teacher to determine when all of their exams are, and if there are any special requirements that you should be aware of.

2. Relax
It is important that your child has time to relax. This can reduce your child’s physical symptoms of anxiety and allow a clear mind for challenging unhelpful thought patterns. There are many forms of relaxation. The most commonly known include deep breathing, muscle relaxation strategies, and guided imagery.

3. Model non-anxious behaviour
This is sometimes easier said than done, particularly if you as a parent experience the same anxiety as your child. Nonetheless, parents who have an understanding of anxiety are often better equipped to demonstrate coping strategies to their children. Rehearsing coping skills, such as light exercise and deep breathing, during non-anxious times is often beneficial for both parents and children. Rewarding brave and non-anxious behaviour may also prove beneficial for children who experience anxiety. After being rewarded for their brave behaviour, children are able to build self-confidence and set themselves up for future successes.

4. Realistic thinking
In an anxious state, our mind can play tricks on us by overestimating the probability of a threat occurring. By challenging negative and intrusive thoughts, children are able to identify the realistic probabilities of particular threats. By developing realistic thinking styles, children can better identify the difference between ‘real dangers’ and ‘false alarms’.

5. Seek professional help
If you believe your child is currently experiencing symptoms of anxiety, contact a psychologist for support. Psychological interventions have high success rates in treating anxiety disorders.

Any strategy that is used to help children overcome anxiety is best served in supportive family and school environments. Patience, communication, and the display of empathy and understanding, often help children feel supported. If a child has confidence in their parents and teachers, then they are much more likely to have confidence in themselves.

For more information or to make an appointment, please visit: www.youthrive.com.au/contact