Counselling for teenagers with exam stress
Do you have a teenager in the final year of school? Have you noticed changes in their personality or recent behaviour?
If the answer is yes, then your teenager may be suffering from exam stress.
There is an awful lot of pressure put upon teenagers nowadays in schools all over the country to get good exam grades. I have even known students to be prevented from sitting certain exams, or even excluded entirely from school, because their forecasts were not deemed to be good enough.
How do we support them to do their best, without adding to this?
First of all, we need to make it clear to our youngsters that learning will take place throughout their life and is not just restricted to GCSE's or university. If your teenager has struggled in a school setting, this does not mean that they will not be able to learn important life and employment skills elsewhere. Make sure that they know that their best effort is good enough for you and that you will support them whatever they decide to do, wherever their next move might be. Show an interest in the youngsters path, don't make this about opportunities which you missed growing up and would be keen for them to pursue instead.
Show them some examples of successful business people who did not do so well in exams. Simon Cowell springs to mind, his hard work and enthusiasm are what allowed him to push to the top. Research shows that emotional intelligence, the ability to get on well with people of all backgrounds and ages, is a better indicator of future success than academic grades. If your teenager is shy or socially awkward you need to help them to relate to their peers, perhaps by encouraging them to join a local group such as scouts or cadets. Ferry them to and from meetings, invite their teenage friends over for film nights etc. Schools are now starting to foster the idea of friendships with many, rather than just one BFF; as they appreciate the impact of the loss of a friend at this crucial time.
Help your teenager with revision. This does not mean tying them to the kitchen table with their books for hours on end, your youngster may learn better while listening to music, creating a mind-map or even walking on a treadmill. Short repeated bursts of half an hour at a time, followed by a break, are more productive than hours on end gazing at books if the content is not registering. Look at past papers so that they have a good grounding in the sorts of questions which might be asked. Feed and water them regularly so that their brains can function well. Have a look on YouTube for some meditations around exams; visualising being confident to put pen to paper can make all the difference if your teenager thinks that they will freeze.
Finally make sure that they get to the exam venue in a timely fashion, having eaten something healthy, carrying a drink and in as calm a manner as possible. Encourage them to wait with friends who are confident, rather than with those that you know are struggling, as anxiety can be contagious.
I have found that students who are exhibiting extreme exam stress, tend to be putting all of their hopes and dreams into doing well at this time. If they feel that exams grades are the key to being able to get out of a difficult home life, then the stress they will put upon themselves can be huge. In these cases professional counselling can really help to allow them to look at things from a different perspective. Parents need to consider the stress that they are giving their teenagers and try to rein it in a bit around this time. If your child has had a really traumatic event happen close to exams, be sure to let the school know so that it can be taken into account.
None of us want our teenagers to become so despondent that they will not even try because of fear of failure. Seek professional help if this seems to be the case, speak to the school or consider private counselling. Be part of your teenagers solution, not part of the problem.
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About Sally Spigner
I worked for over ten years with children before becoming a counsellor and am also mum to a teenager with SEN. This career allows me to see young people grow in confidence and blossom, when they have previously been crippled with self-doubt. It is great to work with teens who I know are going through that phase at home which I know only too well.