How to Overcome Exam Stress Together

4 ways you and your child can enjoy preparing for the exams

By Sue-Ann Lee | 5 September, 2017

I miss the days when my children were much younger — no homework, no after-school activities, no exams, no stress! As a parent of two school-going children, I understand why so many children and their parents find it hard to avoid the pressure to keep up in school.

With final exams looming close, schools are ramping up their end-of-year exam preparations. Even the most laidback parent might find their resistance to academic stressors weakening. I once overheard a table of parents having an animated discussion about PSLE T-scores and comparing the effectiveness of their children’s various enrichment programmes. I felt stressed just listening to them!

When we allow ourselves to fixate on grades and exam results, there is undue strain on our children. A Straits Times report this year highlighted the rise in the number of stressed-out children and youth in Singapore.

I’ve had to take a step back (on multiple occasions) and reflect on my motivations for wanting my eldest child to do well in school. Was it for my pride or was it for her benefit? I certainly do not want my children to end each academic year feeling like their self-esteem and self-worth were tied in with their grades.

While preparations for any exams are never stress-free, we’ve gathered some tips over the years that make exam prep a calm, peaceful and — believe it or not — an enjoyable process!

Communicate your expectations

Agree with your spouse on expectations for your children, and communicate that clearly to them. Take the opportunity to get your children to think about the goals they would like to achieve for themselves.

Children are often more perceptive and insightful than we give them credit for. In our household, we value excellence over perfection, where there is greater importance on the effort they put in over the grades achieved. One day, my daughter asked, “If grades aren’t that important, then why should I study hard at all?” I think she was trying to argue way out of study-time that day!

In our household, we value excellence over perfection.

When children understand what you expect of them, they’re more willing to be moulded and encouraged towards their goals.

Draw out a realistic schedule together

We have found it extremely useful to plan a schedule together. This should include everything from study times, to breaks, to play times and even meal times. Now that my children are older, I let them to plan their own schedules with a little guidance and advice from me. Be realistic and mindful of ensuring a good balance of revision and rest.

Having a schedule gives you and your children a framework for better time management. If you are a full-time working parent, this schedule will also help you keep track of your children’s time at home.

Consider drawing up monthly or quarterly schedules together so that you can build consistency and avoid the ‘mad rush’ just before the exams.

Every child is different

Be aware that different children work well with different approaches. For instance, my son does well with checklists and relishes completing tasks. For him, I would use the schedule to draw out a daily checklist of tasks to accomplish.

My daughter is quite the opposite. Detailed schedules make her feel confined, while schedules that are too fluid leave her feeling lost. I would get her to list out her own tasks in order of priority and keep checking in on her progress throughout the day.

Be aware that different children work well with different approaches.

Take a Break, or Two!

I have found that short, more frequent breaks — or ‘brain-breaks’ as I prefer to call them — between long revision periods have been most effective. These 5-minute bursts of fun activities chop up study sessions into manageable portions without compromising on the momentum of revising.

‘Brain-breaks’ work especially well with children who are easily distracted. Some ideas that we have used are

  • A 5 minute challenge to build a specific structure using toy blocks, toothpicks or straws (or whatever else you have at home. Get creative!)
  • A 5 minute child-friendly workout or dance routine (these can be easily found online)
  • If you have 2 or more children revising together, let them play a quick game of charades or tic tac toe.

Taking ‘brain-breaks’ will not only help motivate your child to keep going until the next break but also give a little burst of energy needed to sustain an intensive revision session.

Every child has a different style of managing stress, and finding a suitable one for them may not be straightforward. This season is also a great time for us to show them how we manage our own stress, and children learn best by example.


© 2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

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