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How to support your child during exams without passing on your trauma

How to support your child during exams without passing on your trauma

As the exam season fast approaches it’s hard not to reflect on what that time meant for you. If you suffered from great anxiety, didn’t achieve what you wanted or didn’t feel supported then you might be finding those feelings resurfacing. We know you want to support your child during this time, so how do you do that without putting your own anxieties onto them? 

Acknowledge your own exam related trauma

We are sure there have been other times as a parent where you have had to reflect on a situation that your child is in and how that same experience affected you. Much like those times you need to take the time to listen to how those experiences make you feel today and make sure you aren’t projecting that onto your child. 

Dr Abigail Brenner wrote in Psychology Today:

“First, you have to learn to clearly identify your own issues and problems and find a way to deal with them responsibly. It’s essential that you recognise that this issue, trauma, problem belongs to you and no one else. You can’t pretend that the things that trouble you don’t exist or try to sweep them under the rug.”

By identifying the issues and understanding those patterns belong to you, is the first step in separating your past experiences from your child’s. 

Have honest and open conversations with your child

If your child is showing signs of being worried and upset during the exam period, then try and encourage open conversations. This is not a time for you to relive your experience but to actively listen to your child. Ask open-ended questions such as: "How are you feeling about your exams?" or "What subjects are you finding challenging?"

 “Listening actively helps children to feel heard and understood. By using gestures such as encouraging smiles and affirming nods you can show that you are engaged with what your child is saying and really care. Getting down to the same eye level as your child as they speak to you can help them feel safer and more connected to you.

Show that you are listening intently to what they have to say by asking them questions like “What?” “Why?” and “How?”. This also helps your child to improve their own communication skills by teaching them how to tell a story and what details to include”, says UNICEF.

Support their way of studying

Helping your child find a positive way to study is an excellent way to help them with the stress of this period. However, you need to do this without forcing what worked for you onto them. Stay more general, offer advice based on articles you have read about creating a revision timetable or how to make fun revision notes. Encourage them to take breaks and ask if they need any help staying organised. 

Ask them if they need any additional resources, maybe a bit of one-to-one tutoring, or creating a space in your home for a study group. 

Remember you are there to help them and support them as a parent and not a teacher so encouraging them to sleep, providing healthy meals and snacks and encouraging exercise are all great ways to offer help.

Watch your reactions

We all know what it feels like when you don’t hit the mark, and we will all have had someone reinforce that feeling. If your child does have a difficult moment during their exam let them talk first before offering a reply. When you do, take into account their emotions before offering any kind of feedback. 

Remind them that mistakes happen – even to you

Letting your child know that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process is really important. Mistakes allow us to learn and build resilience to overcoming setbacks. This is part of the exams process. This is a time to share stories of your own mistakes and how you learned from them. It is a great time to teach them that success isn’t defined by one exam or set of grades. 

Celebrate the effort, not just the result

Whilst a good grade is the common goal, it is important to praise them for their effort and work to get them to this point. The journey is just as important as the outcome. Recognise their hard work and dedication throughout the exam period.

Laura Amies, a former nanny, and childcare consultant from Doncaster told the Independent:

“If it’s a positive result, it is important to praise the efforts that go into it - as opposed to just focusing on high marks.

“If it is not ideal, it is important to offer grounding perspectives and let them know about other options - such as resits and apprenticeships.

“What they need to know is that they are always loved no matter what the result is, and there will be plan B for them.”

Plan activities or rewards to show that you acknowledge their commitment. It could be a movie night, their favourite meal, or a little gift.

Focusing on the effort builds the value of perseverance. This will help with their motivation and give them a sense of pride in their accomplishments. 

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness will not only be massively beneficial to your child, but also to you if you are finding this whole situation quite triggering. You could practise for a few minutes each day as a family. You don’t need to sit around with your eyes closed. You could go out for a walk-in nature with no screens or try and do a guided meditation.  Simple relaxation exercises can help reduce stress and improve focus. There are some great tools in our guide.

Seek support for yourself 

Managing your own exam-related trauma is essential for providing the best support to your child. Consider seeking guidance from a therapist to work through your anxieties and work on developing healthy coping mechanisms. 

Taking care of your mental and emotional well-being sets a positive example for your child. By demonstrating healthy ways to manage stress, you show them the importance of self-care during challenging times.

Supporting your child during exams without passing on your trauma requires a delicate balance of understanding, communication, and empathy. By acknowledging your own experiences and managing your reactions, you can create a supportive environment where your child feels loved and confident, whatever the outcome.

Remember that each child's journey is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to exam support. Keep communication open, promote healthy study habits, and celebrate their efforts, you’re paving the way for their success.

As you navigate this challenging period together, focus on creating positive moments of calm. Your unwavering support will be a guiding light for your child. 

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Joe D

Joe D

1st May 2024