As the exam season ends, many young people will breathe a sigh of relief but others will experience a drop in adrenaline and the depression that follows. Dr Asha Patel, Clinical Psychologist and CEO of Innovating Minds offers advice on how families can offer support
You thought that once the exams were over life would return to normal. Indeed many families will be looking forward to a relaxing holiday or at the very least a release from the pressures of school, grades and being organised. However, examinations cast a long shadow these days and with a barrage of media attention on the new grading systems it is hard to switch off completely.
Some children will experience intense anxiety about their exams, worrying about their grades and wondering what the year ahead holds if they do not get the marks they need for college, sixth form or university. Here are some pointers to help you cope::
- Manage your own expectations. Parents sometimes place a high burden of expectations on their children. Perhaps they want their child to do better academically, have the success they never had or a better standard of living or to be more popular but you cannot live your children’s lives for them.
- Encourage your child to take part in local activities. Being part of a community reduces the sense of isolation that many young people feel, especially in the long summer holidays, and the wider their range of interests, the more likely they are to have different groups of friends and a more balanced perspective on life and the problems it throws up.
- Take signs of stress seriously and talk about them. Some children will fret about their exam results and let their worries cast a cloud over what should be a happy time. Listen but do not jump in to give advice. Instead, ask them what they can do to make things better for themselves.
- Find one thing to praise each day. This is not always easy, especially if they are being moody, rude or upsetting the family dynamic but your role is to build their confidence and it is all too easy to snap or to criticise especially if you find your child unresponsive or unrewarding.
- Respect their efforts. It is better to praise your child for their effort, rather than for their success. This helps children develop a ‘growth mindset’ where they will learn to deal with the challenges and setbacks they will face in the course of their life rather than being overwhelmed and feeling that they cannot cope.
- Share your own experiences. Young people sometimes see parents as being confident and invincible but it is important that our children see that as human beings we all face challenges, and that these challenges can be helpful in the long term.
- The old adage ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ is still relevant today when so many young people spend their leisure hours on tablet, in front of a screen or indoors. Encourage your child to aim for good physical health with a balanced diet and regular exercise.
- Suggest good ways that they can comfort themselves. While some children will turn to comfort eating, drugs or alcohol, there are many healthier ‘guilt-free’ options such as listening to music, baths, showers, going for a walk, exercising, engaging in a new activity. Not all strategies will work for your child so keep trying till you both find the ones that do.
- Children worry that they will let their families down or that everyone else will be getting A stars while they get mediocre grades. Indeed such is the hype now that children who get a grade B think they are no good at a subject. You can be a sounding board for your child but try not to come out with empty words of comfort. You will not change their mind for them so try listening rather than talking.
- Albert Einstein said: ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ Help your child to create a plan for the future and to set goals to mark the steps along the way.
The post exam period can be a difficult time for all the family but don’t let it cast too big a cloud. Enjoy your summer!