As a recent university graduate, I keenly remember the dark cloud of exams looming over me. As autumn became winter outside my window, I sat at my book-covered desk with a mammoth and ever-growing to-do list and the prospect of a good night’s sleep shrinking in proportion.
It is during such times of overwhelming academic stress that teens and young adults are most in need of parental support. Following is a list of ways in which parents of students can bring them comfort and provide practical help during exams.
1. Let them vent, and provide sympathy.
Sometimes, the best antidote to academic stress is simply to talk it out. While all their friends are just as entrenched in unfinished work and upcoming exams as they are, students are naturally looking for someone with the time and willingness to listen to their complaints, to commiserate, and to encourage them—someone like you.
Never press them to confide in you, which can cause them more stress if they’d rather not talk just yet, but be a sympathetic ear and a comforting voice should they need it.
2. Direct them to resources.
Knowing where to look for help is half the battle, and sometimes the prospect of seeking that help is too much for already-overworked students. If you notice your student is struggling with a particular subject or is simply unable to deal with the workload, consider researching the school’s academic services, such as a writing center or tutoring service, and gently directing your child toward whichever is suitable.
Alternatively, there are many online resources and books available to help students organize and learn material. This is a practical way in which you can help your student successfully navigate exam stress.
3. Help them prioritize.
As exams approach, students’ heads begin to swirl with due dates, exam schedules, and all the information they have to learn for their classes. Sometimes, just getting it all out of their heads onto paper will do wonders for their stress levels.
Encourage your student to make a list of when things are due and when they should be worked on. Then, help your student determine which tasks are of the highest priority so that he or she will know what to work on first and where to devote the most effort.
4. Remind them to rest.
No one can work 24/7, yet that is what many students feel they need to do to succeed. When I was a student, staying up too late was sure to burn me out and harm the quality of the work I was doing. Students often need help putting things into perspective. Remind them that, although it doesn’t feel like it, this stressful season will pass. In the meantime, they must take care of themselves.
Finding enough time to sleep, eat well, and be active can become yet another stressor to students, and these activities are often the first to be abandoned. Instead of berating students for not taking care of themselves as well as they should, do all you can to make these things easier for them. Send a care package with some healthy snacks for them to munch on while they study, or suggest that they take a half hour each day to simply rest by reading for pleasure, going for a walk, playing a game of catch with a friend, or taking a power nap.
5. Recognize their accomplishments, however small.
A lot of the academic stress students experience is internal, stemming from their own desire to succeed. To avoid adding to that pressure, remove any that might be coming from you by reminding them how proud you are of them and that your love is not dependent upon their grades.
Don’t reserve your praise only for when they ace a big exam; remember to take time to recognize non-academic accomplishments, too, such as helping a fellow student who’s having trouble or eating a healthy meal instead of fast food.
Whatever form your support takes, the main thing is that your child knows that you care and are willing to help however you can. When it comes down to it, exams are something students have to face on their own—you can’t take tests or write papers for them. But you can help them navigate the accompanying stress, worry, and pressure of exams by showing them compassion and kindness and by giving them practical advice.
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