Helping your kid deal with exam stress

With major examinations coming up, teens may be under a lot of stress, but parents can help them manage it. — Positive Parenting

After being postponed from last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 SPM, SVM, STAM and STPM examinations are finally just around the corner.

Aside from the normal anxiety of facing a major examination, the students taking the papers have also faced the extra stress of having the exams postponed twice from the original scheduled dates.

Now, stress is not always a bad thing. The right amount of stress can motivate your teen to be ready for exams and get things done.

Problems arise when there is too much stress and pressure on them to perform well, which can negatively impact on their overall health and achievement.

S.O.S (Signs of stress)

The stress your teen is under may manifest in the following physical symptoms:

  • Headaches or stomach pains
  • Change in weight, including changes in appetite
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Change in period frequency for girls
They may also show the following behavioural and emotional signs:
  • Feeling tense, moody or bleak
  • Easily irritated and agitated
  • More sensitive than usual to comments/remarks by parents or others
And if they are experiencing severe stress and anxiety, they might:
  • Lose interest or pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed
  • Feel persistently negative, hopeless and/or in a low mood
  • Have panic attacks
  • Increasing feel like isolating themselves from family and friends
What can you do?

Don't worry, there are things that you can do to support and empower your teen to cope with their stress.

First is in the area of organisation:

> Time management

Get your teen to prepare a visual schedule or timetable.

It can be a weekly timetable or a simple daily to-do list.

Your feedback can be helpful, but ultimately, empower them to devise their own strategy or plan.

> Conducive study area

Provide a comfortable and ergonomic study table and chair, and ensure adequate lighting.

Arrange books and stationery so that they are accessible, yet organised, as clutter can be a distraction.

Minimise digital distractions such as the TV and electronic gadgets.

> Chores and routines

Understand that the exam is their main priority at the moment, so it is okay to be lenient with house duties.

Rearrange the chore list or other family routines, so that it does not clash with their study time.

> Break time

A tired brain and eyes cannot stay focused.

In your child’s schedule, help them include regular, short breaks from studying.

They can do some stretches, go for a walk, listen to some music, play with their pet or take a nap during these periods.

Second is taking care of their physical health:

> Healthy nutrition

Make sure they eat well and do not skip meals.

Provide healthy snacks during study sessions, like fresh fruits, milk, yoghurt, sandwiches, wholegrain biscuits or energy bars.

Avoid caffeine products.

> Sufficient sleep

At least eight hours of sleep is still necessary so that they can stay fully focused the next day.

> Stay active

Exercise and physical activity can help your teen relieve stress.

The endorphins released during exercise help the body and mind to relax and stay positive.

Last is ensuring their emotional and mental health is well-looked after:

> Show your support

Respond positively to their needs and feelings.

Do not brush off their anxiety as unfounded.

Be open and spend quality one-on-one time together.

> Talk about their worries

Feeling nervous about exams is normal.

What matters is how they deal with it.

Listen to their concerns, be it the lack of time or difficulty understanding a certain topic.

If your teen feels like giving up, motivate them by reminding them of their goals in life.

> Do not add pressure

Try not to nag your teen during this period (although parents may find this challenging!).

Be calm, positive and reassuring when they seem stressed.

Avoid negative criticism and unrealistic expectations.

Let them know you will still love them no matter what the exam outcome may be; the important thing is to put in their best effort.

> Treats and rewards

A small treat after a long day of studying can help keep your teen going, be it their favourite dessert or an episode of their favourite show.

Having plans for what they are going to do after the exams can also give them something to really look forward to.

Ultimately, exams are just a minor part of our lives.

Our future is not solely determined by exam results.

Many other factors in life contribute to shaping a person’s growth and wellbeing.

Focusing too much on exam results without considering your teen’s abilities only adds to their stress, which may lead to more serious mental health issues.

It is important to know your teen’s capabilities and manage your own expectations, while supporting your teen based on their unique strengths and weaknesses.

Dr Cindy Chan Su Huay is developmental and behavioural paediatrician. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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Child health , mental health , exams


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