How to help your child deal with exam stress

student walking school corridor

How your child copes with exam stress can sometimes mean the difference between two grades, so it's really important to understand how you can support them through exams – before, during, and after. Here are some top tips from parents who've been through it, and come out the other side.

1. Remind them you’re proud no matter what

pride in daughter

This is a horrid time for them – extra hot chocolate is needed!

“Schools put so much pressure on children, so sometimes being reminded that they won't be valued on the basis of the number of A*s – or grade 9s – they get, can really boost a child's confidence.”

“I think it's really really important to remind them (especially if they are very stressed) that all they need to do is their best, and that whatever the results are, you are proud of them.”

2. Make sure they get good food and some rest

“For over-revisers I think food is a good way to lure them out. Keep emphasising that just as athletes need a break for muscles to consolidate and repair, so do brains. And hope they listen to that.”

“Give them lots of food. And try to limit their intake of caffeine.”

Try these brilliant mid-week meals

3. Ask them how you can help

studying with tea

“Ask your child how you can help! If they struggle to think of what you could/couldn't do, you could describe some options. This could be anything from backing off completely, or just bringing them the odd cup of tea, through to active involvement in the process such as helping with exam timetables or running through flash cards with them. The act of asking will speak volumes about your being on their side.”

4. Cut them some slack

Athletes need a break for muscles to consolidate and repair – so do brains.

“If they get grumpy, don't get grumpy back. Take a deep breath, remember this is a horrid time for them, and see it as a sign that extra hot chocolate is needed. Or chocolate Ovaltine at bedtime went down well in our house!”

5. Be practical – get them everything they need


“The most helpful thing I have found is to know in advance which exam is when and make sure that you have everything they need specifically for each exam (pens, maths instruments, calculator, colouring pencils, etc) ready the night before. And always have spare stationery – my son lost his calculator between Maths 1 and Maths 2!”

6. Deal with the anxieties one by one

“Discuss everything that's worrying yoru child and deal with it systematically. Write each worry down on a Post-it note with your response under it and put up on their wall.”

“A life coach once got me to identify what the worst possible thing that could go wrong in that situation would be and to work out how I'd deal with it. I was prepared for the worst, it obviously didn't happen, and then everything went OK because it all faded in comparison. I still use this today and it works for me.”

7. Try some alternative remedies

rescue remedy

“My daughter was always 'too busy' to revise, so she used to cram in the last 48 hours before each exam which drove us all nuts. Bach Rescue Remedy still brings her down off the ceiling when stress unleashes her inner monster.”

Remember, if everything doesn't pan out as they hoped then there are always different routes to get them to where they want to go.

Rescue Remedy gives you the feeling that you're taking something that will help. Look online for breathing exercises and techniques that can help too.”

Headspace is a good app for calming panicky feelings and you get a free 10-day trial – worth a shot (it helped me).”

8. Run through exam technique

Try going through these exam tips with them so they can imagine what will happen once they're in the exam:

  • Give yourself five minutes to read the question paper properly.
  • Identify what each question is about.
  • Decide which question to answer first.
  • Answer the question asked not the one you wish you had been asked.
  • Remember you get 50 % of the marks for basically addressing the question.
  • Remember that sometimes the question is disguised and if you take a moment to work it out, you'll see that you do know the answer even if it didn't look like you did at first.

9. Keep the balance

oh the places you'll go

“Be careful to get the balance right between telling them how important the exam is and also just being supportive.”

“We've settled for saying that they want to reflect the work they've put in over the year in the result for the exam but at the same time if everything doesn't pan out as they hoped then there are always different routes to get to where you want to go. These exams are just one of them and maybe the most straightforward. The motorway really. The other routes (A roads and B roads) might take longer but also might mean that they see more scenery, meet more people and arrive more relaxed.”

Find an online tutor to help your child with exam technique