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Helping Your Child Manage Exam Stress: A Parent's Guide

Parent supporting teenager with exam revision

We’re coming into exam time here in the UK and you may have a young person under your roof who is taking their mocks, GCSES, A-Levels, University exams or even their end of year exams.

Tensions may be high (theirs as well as yours!) and as a parent, it's natural to want to support your child through the ups and downs of exam season. While you can't take the exams for them, there are numerous ways you can provide encouragement, guidance and practical help to ensure they feel prepared, confident and in the best frame of mind to do their very best.

Being a teenager in today’s world is hard – thw awkwardness, pressures from friends and social circles, questions around their sense of identity, developing independence, as well as the surges of hormones that are combined with body changes and fluctuating moods.

(Not even for all the tea in China - and for anyone that knows me, I love my tea - would make me want to be re-live being a teenager again!)

Then when you heap a load of exam pressure on top of that… well,  emotions can become high and it can become a stressful period for not only the individual taking the exam but family members too.

As an ex-teacher and someone who sees many young adults in my Hypnotherapy practice, I have years of experience understanding children and teenagers both inside and outside of the classroom and I know the full well the impact that exam pressures play on their mental, and even physical, well-being.

Teenager overwhelmed with studying and revising

Exam stress is a common experience for children and teenagers, often bringing a mix of anxiety, pressure, and uncertainty. As a parent, witnessing your teenager navigate through this challenging period can be tough – sparking all sorts of emotions such as anxiety, frustration and feelings of helplessness.  However, there are ways you can help them cope effectively and navigate through their exams with resilience.

Before we look at the what you can do to support your child, let's delve a little into the understanding of exam stress.

What is Exam Stress?

Exam stress refers to the physical, emotional, and psychological reactions that occur when an individual feels under pressure to perform well on exams. It can manifest as feelings of anxiety, nervousness, fear, or worry about their ability to succeed.

These feelings can show up in the form of (but not limited to) physical, emotional and mental symptoms such as:

  • Overthinking

  • Outbursts, irritability or snappy behaviour

  • Feeling sensitive or teary

  • Issues with sleep – waking up in the night, trouble falling asleep, insomnia

  • Stomach issues, IBS flair ups or the feeling of being sick

  • Needing the toilet or lack of bowel/bladder contol

  • Muscle tension, headaches or migraines

  • Fatigue and exhaustion

  • Changes in appetite and eating habits

  • Behavioural changes, such as  avoidance, procrastination or withdrawal from social activities.

High levels of stress can also impair cognitive functioning, making it difficult to concentrate, remember information or think clearly during exams and revision, which exacerbates the stress and anxiety even more, causing that vicious cycle of anxiety.

Causes of Exam Stress

It is essential to manage stress in healthy ways in order to avoid burnout and maximise performance. By understanding the causes and effects of exam stress and implementing effective coping strategies, you can help your child navigate through exam season with greater resilience and confidence.

  • Pressure to Perform: Teenagers often feel immense pressure to perform well in exams, whether it's from parents, teachers, peers, or themselves. The fear of not meeting these expectations can be overwhelming and this pressure can create feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure.

  • Fear of the Future: Worries about failing exams or not performing as well as expected can intensify stress levels. This can also trigger worries about the future, such as college/university admissions, career prospects, or living up to expectations. These concerns can amplify stress levels and make it challenging for teenagers to focus on the present moment.

  • Perceived Importance: Believing that their worth or future success depends solely on the exam results can heighten stress levels. Your child might place excessive importance on exams, viewing them as a measure of their intelligence or abilities and this can lead them to having fears about the future and questioning their self-worth.

  • Time Pressure: The need to cover a large amount of material in a limited time can create feelings of urgency and stress. Procrastination or poor time management can exacerbate this sense of time pressure and even lead to ‘paralysis’ or a freeze response.

  • Lack of Control: Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of study material and the pressure to excel can leave teenagers feeling like they have little control over their situation. This sense of powerlessness can contribute to increased stress levels.

It’s worth noting that although exam stress often peaks during exam periods, it can also occur when receiving exam results.

So How Can You Support Your child Through Their Exams?

Research has found that students’ academic performance improved when parents are involved* so here are some practical tips to help them navigate exam stress so that they can perform to the best of their ability.

1. Foster a Positive Environment

Teenager studying for exams

Create a supportive atmosphere at home by encouraging open communication and expressing confidence in your child's abilities. Avoid putting unnecessary pressure on them and instead focus on providing encouragement and reassurance.

With my clients we talk about the best learning environment for them and how they can create a space that will harness their learning. It can become so easy to focus just on the exams, so have conversations about what exciting plans they will have after the exam/exam period is finished.

As humans, we love a reward so it’s great to have something nice in place that you or your young person can reward themselves with after the exam. This can help with motivation and allow them to see beyond the exam.

2. Establish a Study Routine

Help your child create a study schedule that allows for regular breaks and adequate rest. Encourage them to set realistic goals and prioritise their study tasks. A consistent routine can help reduce procrastination and alleviate last-minute cramming.

Different revision techniques work for different people but it’s very important that breaks are scheduled in to avoid mental overwhelm. When the hippocampus (the filing cabinet of our brain, which plays a major role in learning and memory) is forced to store lots of new information in a short space of time, it can get them muddled up, resulting in confusion or difficulty in retaining the information.

It's a good idea to have a schedule where regular breaks can be taken and to revise and revisit pervious learning before moving on to anything new.

3. Provide Resources and Support

Ensure your child has access to the necessary study materials, such as textbooks, notes, and online resources. Offer to help them with difficult concepts or provide guidance on where to find additional support, such as tutoring or study groups.

Parent supporting their child to study and revise

I know that the way things were taught back when we were younger can be so different to how things are taught now but it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the topic yourself. You can learn with them, listen to them recall information or just listen to anything that comes up for them.

4. Encourage Healthy Habits

Emphasise the importance of self-care during exam season. Encourage your child to eat healthily, get enough sleep, and engage in regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being.

Exams and revision can become all-consuming but it is super important that they find some time to engage in activities they enjoy as this will give their body a boost of serotonin – a feel good neurotransmitter – which will help them be happy, healthy and able to cope during exams.


It’s also so easy to reach for chocolate and biscuits when studying – our brain loves to encourage us to reach for the high fat or sugary foods when we’re stressed, as way of counterating the increased adrenaline and cortisol levels.

There's nothing wrong with a bit of chocolate or a biscuit (or two!) but a balanced diet is really important for your child's health and can help with concentration during exam periods so consider having fruit that's easy to eat (it's amazing how children are more likely to eat fruit if it's already cut up and put in front of us) and having nutritious meals.

5. Prioritise Sleep

I couldn’t help but have a whole section on the importance of sleep because it plays such a big role on our overall well-being.  

Sleep mask and relaxation

Unfortunately over 50 per cent of students have trouble sleeping as a direct result of study stress and research has found that sleep-deprived teens are actually more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours**.

To function at their best, most teenagers need between 9 and 10 hours sleep a night***. Good sleep hygiene, limited screen time, reduced caffeine, and a consistent sleep routine can help improve sleep quality.

Ideally their bed should be a place reserved for sleep. While there’s no denying that their bed is probably comfortable than the kitchen chair, revising in bed can affect their sleep. If they spend hours revising in bed then their brain will begin to associate their bed as a place of revision rather than a place of rest and sleep.

Prioritising sleep will help your child to do better at school, allow them to react more quickly to situations, have a more developed memory, learn more effectively and be more efficient in problem solving. It will also help them to less susceptible to colds and catching whatever bugs are doing the rounds at the moment.

6. Celebrate Their Effort and Progress

Remember to acknowledge your child's hard work and effort throughout the exam period. Celebrate small victories and milestones along the way, whether it's completing a challenging assignment or mastering a difficult concept.

It's important to focus on their progress rather than solely on the final grades. Remind your child that exams are just one measure of their abilities and that learning is a life-long process. Encourage them to focus on gaining knowledge and skills rather than solely on achieving high grades.


7. Keep Communication Lines Open

Encourage your child to communicate with you or their teachers if they have any questions or concerns about the exams. Keep lines of communication open and let your child know that they can always come to you for support. Listen to their concerns, validate their feelings, and offer words of encouragement. Remind them that it's normal to feel anxious and that you're proud of their efforts regardless of the outcome.

8. Share Stress Management Techniques

Dad walking with his two children

Help your child develop effective stress management techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or visualisation exercises.

Practising relaxation and mindfulness has its benefits for everyone so you could even suggest doing this together. Listen to guided relaxations or visualisations on YouTube, Insight Timer App or unplug from technology and step away from textbooks and go for a walk together.

By implementing these strategies, you can help your child feel supported and empowered to tackle exams with confidence and resilience. Remember that every child is unique, so be flexible in your approach and adapt to their individual needs and preferences. Your unwavering support and encouragement can make a world of difference during this challenging but rewarding time.

Seeing Further Support

It’s normal to feel a some stress about exams but if it’s having an impact on your child’s daily life, mental health and wellbeing then I recommend seeking further support.

One of the most common things that parents use to say to me when I was teaching was ‘How is that my child listens to you, yet they totally ignore what I have to say?’

Don’t take this personally – you are their parent so what would you know 😜

Sometimes a message lands better when it comes from someone else (let’s be honest we’ve all probably ignored advice from our own parents and it’s not until later as we’ve got older and become parents ourselves that we've learnt that actually the advice they gave us wasn’t that bad!)

How Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help

Hypnotherapy offers a holistic approach to managing exam stress by addressing the underlying psychological factors and promoting relaxation and confidence to help enhance academic performance. By harnessing the power of the subconscious mind, hypnosis can empower your child to overcome exam-related challenges and thrive in their academic endeavours.

It can equip your teen with effective coping strategies for managing exam-related stressors, such as test anxiety, time pressure, and performance anxiety. Through relaxation techniques and mental rehearsal, hypnosis can help to develop resilience and adaptability, enabling your child to overcome challenges with ease.

If you are looking for support for your child, or how you can support your child and wish to explore how Hypnotherapy can help, feel free to get in touch to arrange an informal chat.

*Castro, M., Expósito-Casas, E., López-Martín, E., Lizasoain, L., Navarro-Asencio, E., Gaviria, JL. (2015). Parental involvement on student academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 14, 33-46.

**Roberts, R. E., & Duong, H. T. (2014). The prospective association between sleep deprivation and depression among adolescents. Sleep, 37(2), 239–244.

*** Paediatr Child Health (2008) Teens and sleep: Why you need it and how to get enough. doi: 10.1093/pch/13.1.69.


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