The Complete Parent's Guide to GCSEs

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: Supporting a Stressed and Anxious Teenager

Around intense revision periods and exam times, it is inevitable that students will feel a certain degree of stress. 

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that children are unlikely to want to talk about the way they are feeling, how it is truly affecting them, or why they feel that way. For the most part they may not even realise that they are feeling a certain way.

Here are some symptoms to look out for if you think your child might be suffering: 

  • Sleep issues
  • Difficulty concentrating (or revising)
  • Negative behaviour changes, e.g increased anger
  • Increased irritability

Rachel Dodge, an expert in well-being and the Psychology Subject Officer for GCSE exam board WJEC warns about other potential signs of stress:

You might find that your child is behaving differently from usual. Signs could include lack of concentration, avoiding people, being more sensitive, changes in eating habits, changes in sleep patterns. Get to know your child's stress signs and try to take action when they appear.

Parental support is one of the most important factors in a child’s success. You don’t have to become a ‘super parent’ you just need to be supportive.
During this stressful time try to make home life as calm and pleasant as possible. It helps if other members of the household are aware that your child may be under pressure and that allowances should be made for this.

When a teenager shows any of these symptoms, it’s important you work with them to help them. This isn’t an interrogation, good cop bad cop is never a good look on a parent. Of course, you won’t get total transparency straight away. Being forceful for an explanation is the last thing you want to do."

A great place to start is a hug and the assurance that it is okay to not be okay...

Once you’ve done this, you can help get to the bottom of what it is making them feel anxious. A way to help a child stuck in a stressful rut is by making key alterations that will allow them to deal with their feelings more effectively.

Alter the routine

If you've noticed your teenager comes home and does one particularly unhelpful habit (e.g. turns on the TV without getting changed.) Prompt that they switch up the day by making one positive change (e.g. getting some comfy clean clothes on so they can relax.) 

If your child is on their phone between certain hours in the day, offer an alternative activity that they can do with you instead. 

During exam times, instead of panicking before an exam, psychotherapist Geraldine Joaquim offers some great techniques your children can do instead: 

Use positive visualisation to help prepare for the test (rather like top athletes do when preparing for races/matches), walk through the process of entering the class room, laying out pencils/pens, opening the exam paper and the feelings of finishing the tests successfully. This prepares the brain for the physical test and helps to reduce the fight/flight response." 

Alter your home environment

Clutter and mess around the house can cause unnecessary stress on the brain. If your living areas are messy, this could be making your teenager even more anxious. It's worth keeping clutter tidied away into cupboards and drawers to keep mental distractions around exam times to a minimum. Here are other super awesome things you can do to your living space to make it that little more relaxing:

  • Bring the outdoors in: studies have shown that indoor plants can improve concentration and boost productivity by a staggering 15%!
  • Natural lighting does wonders to your mood, make sure you allow as much light into your living spaces as possible.
  • Keep fresh fruit bowls regularly topped up with your teenager's favourite fruit, to limit the temptation to reach for sugary or processed foods.

Alter the way you act

For this guide, we collaborated with the NSPCC, who issued this advice for how parents can support their children during exam season:

Have a chat with your child about how you could make studying a little easier for them. It’s also important to encourage them to take regular breaks, eat snacks, and to exercise! Taking some time to still do the things they enjoy will help them to focus better when they are revising.

As well as providing practical support, emotional support during the build-up and exam period itself is really important. Let your child know you are there to listen to any worries or concerns they may have. Whilst you will want your child to do their absolute best, it’s also important to not place unnecessary pressure on them to gain a certain grade.

Remind them that there is life beyond exam results and that if things don’t go exactly to plan, there will be lots of other opportunities to express themselves and succeed later on in life."

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