Julia Clements is a Principal Educational Psychologist at Place2Be and has worked with children, schools, and families for 26 years.
SATs, exams, and tests loom large in young people’s lives at this time of year.
Whilst being nervous about exams and tests is perfectly ordinary, for some students these nerves can tip over into feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, low moods, and other mental health difficulties.
If you are a parent, carer, or teacher, the following may be useful as you support your child or pupil as they navigate the stressful exam period:
Be aware of the impact of recent difficulties - young people who have had recent difficulties in their lives (such as a relationship break-up, a bereavement, or a parental divorce) and those with existing mental health conditions may be especially vulnerable during the exam period. Stress is cumulative, so these young people are likely to need extra care and attention. Having said that, all those sitting exams could probably do with a little extra support.
Focus on the basics – make sure the young people/person you care for are eating healthily, getting enough sleep, and are exercising. Some schools have introduced ‘the daily mile’ as part of their routine. At home, encourage young people to go to the park, take the dog for a walk, or go out on their bike.
Make sure children keep their study-life balance in check - it is important for one's self-esteem to engage in activities you like and feel good at, especially if you are finding their school work and revision difficult. So, encourage them to keep up their hobbies and interests – playing sport, music, cooking – are all good antidotes to hours of sitting down and revising.
Help lift their mood - encourage young people to do things that help lift their mood and keep boredom at bay – watch comedies, learn how to juggle, spend time with their pet in between study sessions.
Encourage positive coping - Teach positive coping for when your child or pupil feels overwhelmed. For example, download a mindfulness app and practice together at home or as part of a class activity at school.
Encourage self-awareness - Talk to young people about how they can monitor their mood. Giving themselves a score out of 10 (with 0=totally chilled and 10=totally overwhelmed) and talking to you about this will help them to take their ‘emotional temperature’ and gain a sense of when they may need extra support.
Tell them they are valued - Remind young people that they are valued for who they are – not on the basis of how well they do in exams and tests.
- See more: Join us at MHT Wales, our flagship event, to learn more about school mental health in the Children and Young People stream
- See more: We can aim higher than 'off-the-shelf' mental health lessons
In times of crisis...
Remember to stay calm - Let young people speak - and listen to what they say. Ask about feelings and validate these, whatever they are. Ask how you can help. Your support might be practical (making them something to eat or helping them to order their revision notes) or it could be emotional – letting them know you are hearing just how difficult things feel for them right now.
Contact your GP - If you are worried that your child’s mental health is suffering, contact your GP. Let school staff know the extent of your concerns and request extra support, such as a member of staff who is aware of the child's struggles and can regularly heck in with how they are feeling.
Whether you are a teacher, parent, or carer, you will need to take care of yourselves during exam time too. Make sure you plan for a bit of extra self-care whilst you are looking after your children and students.
Place2Be is a children's mental health charity providing school-based support and in-depth training programmes to improve the emotional wellbeing of pupils, families, teachers and school staff. Working in partnership with schools, teams of mental health professionals help to create a culture of openness and promote positive mental health. Place2Be is grateful for its generous supporters, including the People’s Postcode Lottery. For more information about Place2Be, please visit: https://www.place2be.org.uk/