Why Am I So Stressed About My Child's Exams?

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Why Am I So Stressed by My Child’s Exams?

Calming the inner storm

By Chan Swee Fen | 14 September 2022


“I am sitting for the PSLE/ 'O' levels exam this year.”

“I am taking 3 months of no-pay leave to coach my child for the national exams.”

Do these statements ring a bell? Whether they are communicated in jest or in a serious tone, parents definitely feel the heat whenever the exams are approaching.

As parents we want the best for our children; we want them to succeed in school and in life. And there is nothing wrong with making sacrifices to support our children to do well in major exams.

But why are some parents highly strung and unduly stressed when exam season comes around?

We might not like to admit this, but if we are feeling more anxious than our children who are taking high-stake exams, it is usually more about us than about our children.

Our fear of failure or worries about our children’s future can keep us on the edge, and we may unwittingly project our fears onto our children even as we help them in the exam preparation.

How do you know if you have reached your tipping point?

Consider these tell-tale signs:

  1. Being easily angered
  2. Some parents become demanding and set unrealistic expectations for their children. They fly off the handle when the child cannot complete the assessment papers assigned by the school and/or the tutor to prep for the exams. Or they hit the roof when they perceive the child to be disinterested in the exam revision and prefer to spend time playing internet games.

  3. Nagging incessantly or lecturing
  4. Some parents may give children threats about a bleak future if they don’t do well and scold them for their tardiness in completing assessment papers.

    Our fear of failure or worries about our children’s future can keep us on the edge, and we may unwittingly project our fears onto our children.

  5. Promising gifts or monetary rewards as incentives
  6. “If you get all ‘A’s, you can have your Tik Tok account.”

    “If you do well, you can upgrade to the latest smartphone model.”

    Rewarding a child for putting in effort to attain academic achievement is usually a genuine display of parental affection to motivate the child to do well in exams.

    But when you frequently “dangle a big carrot” out of sheer desperation, the approach can backfire. Your children may associate learning with external rewards and know that they have a “bargaining chip” in the future: they can have whatever they want if they just do well in their studies.

  7. Guilt-tripping
  8. “I am sacrificing my work leave to help you prepare for your exams, so make sure you put in the effort and study hard and get good results.”

    When parents feel helpless or want to get the child to comply with their demands to revise or prep for their exams, they may resort to unhealthy tactics such as guilt-tripping.

    These strategies may be effective in motivating the child to study in the short run, but they tend to have negative long-term consequences if used frequently.

    Your child may develop a sense of shame or guilt when he disappoints you, and consequently learn to seek external validation and approval in life. It may also teach the child to take responsibility for matters that are not theirs to own.

    As you support your child in exam prep, focus on helping them keep on track with their revision, and coaching them on stress management skills instead of worrying about the outcome.

Parental stress and uncontrolled anxiety can have detrimental effects not just on the relationship but on your child’s emotional and mental health too. So, be aware of your “hot buttons” and take proactive steps to manage your stress.

What can you do if you lose it?

Here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Step back (detach) and give yourself emotional space
  • It is important to keep one’s emotions in check. Unchecked anger has negative effects on you and your child.

    Your outburst is likely to increase your child’s stress level and hinder him from concentrating on his exam revision. Remember that your child is the one sitting for the exams, not you.

  • Identify unhealthy or unhelpful beliefs
  • “If she doesn’t do well academically, I am a terrible mother.”

    “I cannot lose out to my siblings. All my nieces and nephews always do well in major exams.”

    “My child will lose out in life if he doesn’t succeed in school.”

    These are some examples of disempowering self-talk.

    In a previous article, I shared the Find It, Fix It, Flip It techniques to support your anxious child. You can apply these techniques on yourself too.

  • Fill up your “emotional tank”
  • Whether it is having a cup of tea at a nearby café or walking around the neighbourhood, find activities to calm your frazzled nerves.

  • Re-engage and refocus
  • When you have regained your composure after losing your temper at your child, apologise to your child for your outburst. Then explain that there are better ways to manage your anger and what you intend to do the next time you sense your anger rising. Through such modelling, your child will learn about taking personal responsibility for one’s emotions and adaptive ways to manage anger.

    As you support your child in exam prep, focus on helping them keep on track with their revision, and coaching them on stress management skills instead of worrying about the outcome.

  • Talk to a trusted friend
  • If you notice that you are unable to support your child without constantly losing your temper and are experiencing heightened tension in the home, talk to a trusted friend or consider seeking counselling help for support and perspective.

Preparing and sitting for major exams can be highly stressful for children, so they need your support and encouragement during this time. But if you hit the roof each time you help them, you will also elevate their stress level. So be aware of your boiling point and take proactive steps to keep your emotions in check. Remember, if your child sees that you are staying calm and optimistic even in the face of challenges, they will also learn to do the same for themselves.


© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Swee Fen is an ordinary woman who desires to inspire others to make an extra-ordinary impact through her family life and life skills workshops, counselling training sessions and writing. You may connect with her at [email protected].

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