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Coping with Exam stress

Dr. Udena Attygalle

QWhat health implications could rise due to exam pressure and how can it affect the mentality of young children? 
Exams and their aftermath affect children in different ways. While some children thrive, some appear to suffer. Children with an anxious temperament are likely to anticipate and worry about the worst outcomes at an exam. Worry itself can affect the ability to concentrate and make studying even more difficult. Others with obsessive temperaments will sometimes try to get perfect results. As they have a tendency to avoid things they can’t do perfectly, this may lead to an avoidance of exams and school if they feel they cannot achieve what they want.

It has now been shown that chronic stress can affect the developing brain and alter our responses in adult life. The neural circuits that deal with stress are known to change with chronic stress. This can lead to a poorly regulated stress response system later life. Exam stress can also be considered chronic stress for some, as there is a long drawn out period of preparation and anticipation before the exam itself.

QHow can parents help their children overcome such exam stress?
While exams are important, in the real world, resilience or the ability to overcome difficulties is more crucial. To be resilient, children need to feel secure in their attachment to their parents. Thus, children should feel that their parents are happy with them and will support them no matter what their outcome at the exam!

Parents can also help by teaching their children important skills in planning and organisation. Having other things going on in your child’s life is also important, so that the consequences of exams are not the only thing in their world.

It is a good practice to be available to talk to your child at an emotional level. This is so that when they do feel stressed, they will be able to communicate this with you. All too often, we see that children are unable to communicate and internalise their distress, becoming sad, angry, withdrawn and even developing symptoms like headaches.

Finally as Donald Winicott, a famous child psychoanalyst said, what a child needs is not a perfect parent but a parent who is good enough. In today’s unforgiving world of exams, it is necessary to be forgiving of both yourself and your child.

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