Life

Ask the Expert: How can I help my son to cope with exam stress?

The pressure young people are under at exam time can cause real stress and mental health issues

Q: MY 15-year-old son is taking his GCSEs and seems really stressed, but won't talk about how he feels. How can I best help him through the exam period?

A: Wendy Robinson, head of service at Childline (childline.org.uk), says: "If your child is stressed about their exams but finding it hard to talk about how they feel, try to be patient and understanding until they're ready to open up.

"A few ways you can encourage this is by making sure they have the space and time to study, as well as encouraging them to take regular breaks, eat healthy snacks and exercise.

"Once your child feels reassured of your support and wants to talk, listen carefully to their worries and fears, and never trivialise how they're feeling because the pressure they're under can cause real stress and mental health issues.

"Some young people have told Childline the prospect of taking exams had an adverse effect on their mental health, with some coping by self-harming and others saying they were feeling suicidal.

"We know at Childline that a lot of young people who are stressed about their exams worry about disappointing their parents. Alleviate their worries by making sure your child knows how proud you are of them, regardless of their results. Other reasons young people told us they were stressed about their exams were trying their best and still failing, having excessive workloads, and feeling unmotivated to revise.

"As a parent it's important you don't put unnecessary pressure on your child to gain certain grades or remind them what results other family members achieved in their exams. Your child may already feel under pressure from their teachers, friends and themselves to do well. And never say, 'It wasn't like this in my day' – children won't care and it isn't about you!

"What you can do is ask if they need anything, say you're proud of them, and offer an end-of-exams celebration to help them visualise it being over.

"If you're still finding your child is reluctant to open up about how they're feeling, then Childline is always ready to provide help and advice. Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000, or e-mail help@nspcc.org.uk. Children can call Childline on 0800 1111 any time of the day or night."

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