Our children are some of the most tested in the world, and the introduction of standard assessment testing (SATs) in 1995 has seen a dramatic rise in the number of children feeling stressed and anxious.
So much so, that the NSPCC ChildLine service reported school related problems as the biggest concern in 2013/14, with exam stress cases rising 200%.
Exams, such as SATs, contain two ingredients that create a “perfect storm” of anxiety and stress in children:
- Negative consequences: being a failure, letting parents down, missing out on a school place, or being seen as stupid. The list goes on.
- Uncertainty: They don’t know what the test contains or how well they will do
Once a child is starting to feel anxious and stressed, this can quickly spiral out of control. That’s because, stress and anxiety not only use up a lot of mental energy, but also stops us thinking straight and remembering what we’ve learnt, making us feel underprepared and unable to cope.
It’s therefore important to help your children stay relaxed, so they can think straight and work to the best of their ability.
Here are 10 things you can do to help them beat stress:
- Balance is vital to mental health, so as well as revision time, children need time to sleep and time to play. Make sure the set aside time for each, and help them understand that they will work better if they have this balance.
- Revision and stress can make the mind over-active, so make sure they stop work at least an hour and a half before bedtime, otherwise they may struggle to go to sleep.
- Exercise is a fantastic way to mop up stress hormones and calm the mind, so taking your child for plenty of walks or cycle rides will help them “blow away the cobwebs” and stay fresh.
- If possible, try to keep study and relaxation areas separate, so that your child can “switch off” from study when relaxing, as well as avoid being distracted when “at work”.
- Encourage your child to be open with you, and take time to listen to their worries and anxieties. Allowing them share their worries, as well as giving them plenty of reassurance, positive encouragement and hugs can stop them feeling isolated and alone.
- Try to minimise stimulants before bedtime, such as computers, electronic games and sugary foods. A consistent routine, such as hot milk, bedtime stories, and a hot bath will help them get ready to make the most of sleep time.
- Some children are “larks”, others are “owls”, so let your child study at the time they are most alert and fresh.
- Get into the habit of arriving at school on time, so that when SATs day comes, they don’t feel rushed or stressed.
- Try not to amplify the negative consequences – never talk about pass or fail – instead, focus on how prepared they are to stay calm and work to the best of their ability, and how great they will feel when its all over.
- Finally, try to give your child a positive consequence – something to look forward to after the SATs, regardless of their results, such as a day out or a special treat.
Remember, the calmer your child is, the more mental energy they will have for their SATs and the more able they will be to think straight and work to the best of their ability.