Exam stress affects the whole family. Everyone can feel like they are treading on eggshells at this tense time. At least the students can focus their nervous energy on exams, but what about the parents?
Parents are eager to see their child succeed but are also concerned about their levels of anxiety. How can they tread the thin line of motivating their children, without exerting more pressure on them? IB World speaks to IB parents about how they support their children through exam time.
How do you support your children through the DP assessments?
Margot has four children: two have already completed the DP; the third is in his first year of the DP; and the youngest is due to sit her final exams in 2019. She says so far they have been fairly independent.
“My children don’t ask for much input. They regulate themselves and seem to resent interference from us,” she says. “All we do is try and provide a caring, stable and supportive home environment. Make sure there’s plenty of food to snack on and cook healthy meals. Also, it’s important to give them some perspective when the pressure starts to build and emotions become heightened. Be a sounding board and listen to the venting.”
Susan agrees. Her eldest daughter, who completed the DP in 2015, worked independently too. Susan provided background support, trying to make her life outside the schoolwork as simple as possible. She has two younger children due to begin DP soon.
My role, especially as exams were approaching, was to make sure she ate regular meals, to encourage her to do exercise and get enough sleep. She was a conscientious and organized worker so I would have to encourage her to take regular breaks from time to time.
Margot would possibly get tutors in to support in the subjects that are a struggle for her children, while Susan will help her other daughters structure their studying.
“My three daughters are very different in their strengths and weaknesses, and in their approach to studying. My younger two are not as organized as my eldest so I may have to get more involved in how they structure their studying, but, again, I feel my role is much more background support.”
What routines do you try to encourage?
The main routine Margot strives for is eating and talking as a family around the dinner table. She says this is very important to maintain, especially at stressful times. But it’s hard to regulate routines for 17-year-olds.
They have their own minds. You can encourage certain routines but they really like to be responsible for themselves and regulate their own routines. There is not a lot of time to squeeze in much else besides study.
How do you keep your children motivated?
Margot has always encouraged her children to focus on the big picture and find motivation and self-discipline in themselves. “It has to come from them,” she says. “My children have taken that on board and know that you get what you give in life.”
Susan finds it difficult to keep the girls motivated throughout the two years of the DP, but says if they have a clear idea about what they want to study and at which university, this helps with motivation. She offers her daughters encouragement when they need it: “It’s such an intense, stressful time. Just be there for them and acknowledge that you know it’s tough. Encouraging them to have a night off helps, too.
We offloaded many of my daughter’s household chores, allowed her to give up her extra-curricular activities in her final year, and tried not to book up our weekends with social events, especially in the final six months.
How do you recognize when exam stress has become unhealthy, and how do you handle this?
The DP is a rigorous programme that demands a lot from teenagers, so it’s important for parents and teachers to help ensure they don’t over-stress themselves.
Tears, late nights and refusing to leave the house are clear signs of unhealthy stress, says Susan. “The physical effects include pale skin, bags under their eyes and spots,” she adds.
“If they start to complain of feeling sick all the time and are constantly tired, that’s when you know their stress levels are unhealthy,” says Margot.
She takes her children for weekends away for a change of scenery or they go to the movies or theatre performances. “Encourage them to go to the gym and have a few outside interests or hobbies. It’s important to still socialize, when they can,” adds Margot.
“Listen to your children and don’t interfere too much,” advises Margot. “They are being monitored closely at school with regards to meeting their academic deadlines and you will be informed if there is a problem.”
Margot suggests that while students are preoccupied with their studies, parents can help research and make arrangements for visiting university open days. “Be there in the background ready and willing to help with proof-reading and revision for tests and exams,” she adds.
“Be aware of the incredible amount of work the DP demands,” adds Susan. “I’m not looking forward to going through it again with my other two children, but at least I know now what to expect.”