Helping our children to manage exam stress

March 13, 2023
By Dr Zheng Zhimin, Psychiatrist

Examinations are not only a gateway for further progression in the education system and may also serve as periodic assessments of the child’s learning for a specific time period.

In order to manage the stress surrounding examinations effectively, it is helpful for both child and parent(s) to focus on the big picture, as one can become overly concerned with having to perform well for a particular examination and sacrifice mental well-being in the process.

How can you help your child cope with exam stress?

Firstly, we have to recognize that examinations are inaccurate assessments of the child’s abilities. Examinations are point-in-time, and results are determined not only by how much the child has been able to absorb from the textbooks, but are also affected by factors such as emotional states, physical health and even interpersonal events.

Recognizing that a child who does poorly in one examination may not necessarily continue to “fail” in Life is crucial.

The worth of a person should never be tied to something as capricious as examination results.

Similarly, a child who excels consistently in examinations should also not be expected to always do well.

Failure is part and parcel of Life.

We all make mistakes and learn to pick ourselves up, and hopefully become resilient along the way. A child who sees failure in examinations as unacceptable early in Life would inevitably develop excessive fear towards the idea of losing or defeat.

As parents, we all hope to raise independent children who are able to brave the challenges of Life.

However, our children cannot learn resilience if they do not go through adversity.

Letting go of excessive worry over whether our children is “doing enough” in studies and setting ourselves free from worldly definitions of success for our children would help them to blossom in due time.

The child’s personality and other environmental factors play a part.

Some parents have shared with me that they do not expect their child to do well in examinations and are more concerned with the child over-stressing himself / herself.

It is true that the child’s personality and other environmental factors such as school culture do play a part. If you are able to do so, choose to make decisions to change these factors where needed so that your child can be freed from undue expectations. For example, if you suspect that the school places too much emphasis on academic results, you may wish to facilitate a school transfer.

If the child is perfectionistic by nature and tends to get trapped in his/her own expectations, seeking professional help such as therapy may be necessary. 

Are we projecting our own anxieties onto our children?

In essence, in order to help our children with examination stress effectively requires us to first address our fundamental values towards education and success. Are we projecting our own anxieties onto our children when we berate them for “not studying hard enough”? Are we trying to live out our own dreams through our children when we remind them constantly of the importance of getting straight-As so as to get good jobs?

Children seek to please their parents and derive their sense of worth directly from the latter’s acknowledgement.

While it is important to educate our children on the value of working hard, we also should not underestimate the weight of our words with regards to the child’s achievements – academic or not.

Life is a journey that is never a straight path, and having faith in the person that your child can become is a choice you can make to set your family free from society’s unrelenting pressures. 

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