Exams exams, a pain in the neck,

I’ve bitten my nails, I’m a nervous wreck!

My books all piled up, they are towering on my desk,

I smell so bad, and look grotesque

Stress building up, will I fail?

It’s tangible now, feels like I’m in jail!

Trapped inside my own head,

With the stress of it all, I’m overfed

I step in the classroom, I feel fear in the air

I just hope my parents, my life, they will spare

Peeling is my skin, falling out is my hair,

Life without exams, oh, that life is so rare!

This poem accurately sums up the woes of a student prepping for her boards!

The exam season is officially here. Every year, we see a surge in the number of students who attend the OPD for varying degrees of exam stress. Some are in so much distress that we need to admit them and send them for their boards from the hospital ward!

This year, with the pandemic and the lack of real time classes, many children have lost their bearing and sense of discipline to study. This, along with the uncertainty of when the exams would be held, have contributed to a mega increase in the stress levels.

Reams have been written about what children need to do to avoid exam stress. According to me, more needs to be written about what parents need to do to make children more comfortable and confident during exams. For this to happen, parents need to pitch in by:

  1. Starting early and being consistent.

We know at the start of the school year when the exams are likely to be. There is always enough time to study, if we start early. Make a timetable with your child, starting off with small chunks of time and slowly increasing the number of hours over the year. Starting with a tight, heavy schedule at the beginning of the year leads to a burn out at the end.

There are three different types of subjects that a student has to study.

  1. memory dependent – history, civics, biology
  2. problem solving – physics, maths, chemistry
  3. interpretation dependent – languages and literature

The trick is to learn problem solving subjects when the child’s energy is at her highest and the interpretation dependent ones when the energy levels are lowest. This will ensure that the maximum amount of information will be retained and the child feels more confident.

However tempting last minute studying sounds, teach your child that starting with small chunks of time early on gives the memory muscle time to work out before it prepares for the final ordeal. Just like a sportsman trains every day before the actual race to ensure a good performance and lessen the incidences of mishaps, the same holds true for memory too. Practice well, and the actual exams would definitely seem easy.

Till this habit gets set, make sure to nag, scold or whine till your child realises that you will not budge. One exam through, she is sure to thank you for it.

  1. Building an environment that is suitable for study.

Children today, have too many distractions. Hence, for studying to be effective, make a place and time where these are kept minimal. Keeping away cell phones and switching off notifications on phones and laptops are useful but not enough.

Parents have to realise that they too, can be distracting. Having guests at home, going out for parties and watching a movie the night before your child’s exam can be very frustrating for the child.

Make sure that you are available, when your child needs you. You may not understand the subject, but just sitting next to the child, listening to her revise, a gentle back rub and a reassuring smile can go a long way in making her comfortable.

A word of caution: do not interfere or comment negatively when the child is revising. Give an opinion only when one is asked.

  1. Ensuring that they remain healthy.

Exams, sleep and food seem to have an inverse relationship. The temptation to stay up late to cram everything and avoiding meals to save time is valid. Many parents also prescribe to the theory that late nights are a must for revision. We cannot be more further from the truth. Convince your child that sleep and good nutrition are a must for good grades. Make your child take small breaks to either go for walks, help you out in the kitchen or do small chores. It will help him take his mind off the fear of exams and make it feel like a routine day.

  1. Avoiding bribes and incentives.

There are two theories of motivation. The push and the pull theories. The push theory states that if there is a sufficient thrust to do something, no one needs to tell the person to work towards her goal. For example, poverty will push a person to work hard enough to get out of the hardship. The pull theory states that if there is a reward for hard work, the person will do whatever is necessary in pursuit of the reward.

Parents believe that bribing children with promise of buying vehicles and technology will help motivate the child to do better. For the time being, it does work. But for the next exam, the child is likely to be more distracted and less likely to study, thanks to the very thing that she worked so hard to get.

Hence, instead of bribing kids, try and explain that the good grades are for them. If they need to get into a good college, then they have to work hard. If they do not, then they have to face the consequences. It is important to stick to this. If you give in and pay to get the child into a great college though she did not work hard for it, she will end up believing that she can get away with being careless.

Try and build a vision for your child instead. Show her videos or pictures of great colleges, how exciting the curriculum sounds and how many opportunities would open up if only she got there. This is a better incentive than a fancy gadget.

  1. Reminding yourself that it is not about you.

“We want our children to have the best”, seems to be the mantra of parenting today. Parents resort to emotional black mail, pressurising the child to do what they have envisioned for her.

Parents need to remember that their children are not miniature versions of themselves. They have unique personalities with aspirations of their own.

Listen to your child, do some research and ask help from career counsellors before dissing your child’s dream. However educated we are, we have no knowhow of many careers and professions that are opening up in the world. If your child is studying to fulfil a dream of her own, she is more likely to enjoy the process and get less stressed.

  1. Teaching them how to deal with failure.

Failure can put down the best among us. It also happens to everybody at some point in their lives. So, instead of frantically trying to run away from it, teach your child how to deal with it by-

  1. telling them that exams are important but their happiness is more so.
  2. talking about multiple rather than single goals. Then, their dreams need not crash, and they have an alternative. This reduces the pressure of failure.
  3. being matter of fact about it. If you look upset and act that way, your child may feel that she has let you down. Put up a brave front and be there for your child. She would have felt the failure more acutely than you ever would. Do not feel embarrassed talking about it in front of others. When you make it less important, it slowly ceases to be.
  4. finding out the reasons behind the failure and working towards correcting it. It may range from lack of focus, poor teaching, dyslexia or difficulty in the medium of instruction. Taking help will ensure success the next time.

I know that this sounds like a lot of hard work for a parent. But in today’s competitive world, where the only way of assessing a child’s capacity is done by the grades she scores in the boards (though it is terribly wrong to do so), we, as parents should pitch in our efforts towards helping our children to the best of our abilities.

So, best of luck parents!


About the Author

Preethi Shanbhag


My name is Preethi Shanbhag. I am a psychiatrist and a mother. In my free time I love to read, write, travel and cook.

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