A number of my favorite tips for parents wanting to know how to help their US student survive exam week — and parents to survive their stressed and tired students! — come down to the good ol’ basic needs we have provided since they were little:
SLEEP: Encourage as close to the 8-9 hours of sleep as possible (it helps with managing stress but also memory and learning!), but realize that this may not be possible and don’t get upset with them.
FOOD: Ask ahead of time what favorite meals they may want during the week or snack foods on hand to take between exams, for study hours, etc.
EXERCISE: Encourage and support them having outlets for exercise to both manage stress and help aid attention and memory, but don’t push or insist. You may even consider giving them a break from their usual chores for this special week, so they can still have time to go to the gym or to do some other fun physical activity (rock climbing anyone?).
REST: Encourage breaks during studying to recharge their focus and keep stress manageable.
BREATHE: Encourage even a few slow, deep breaths when stress rises and especially when sitting down to study, when finishing studying, before bed, and when sitting to take the exam.
PLAY: Allow them to reward themselves with fun things in between work times (e.g., an episode of their favorite TV show, a quick game, shooting hoops in the driveway) and especially at the end of exams!
LOVE: Give plenty of hugs and snuggles, leave notes by their bed, in their bag, on the steering wheel, etc. Just make sure that all the notes DON’T say “good luck on your exam!” Instead jot an old inside joke, a memory you thought of recently of a shared fun moment, something you really like about who they are (not their grades!).
COMFORT: Think about soothing their senses!! Find sneaky ways to offer physical comfort as support, such as a warm cup of tea with honey placed (without saying a word) beside them when they are studying, bake cookies to fill the kitchen with yummy smells, a new pair of comfy sweats or flannel pjs for “studying”… literally giving comfort without evoking the “mom, stop being so annoying!” response.
CONNECT: Remember to maintain family spiritual and religious practices even if schedules are hectic. This will help kids feel the strength of their family practices, a sense of perspective (values bigger than “exams”), and give necessary breaks.
Try not to bring up any heavy topics and limit arguments during exams—most anything can wait a few days and they may not be very open and only view it as one MORE thing to “manage.” And let’s face it…if we were consumed with studying for major exams, would we want someone pointing out our dirty clothes on the floor or that we didn’t fill up the gas tank again?
Don’t offer unsolicited advice about studying (even if you may be right!). Instead, ask if there is anything that you can do to be helpful and offer what could be on that menu: suggestions for studying, quizzing them, listening as they “teach” you material, cooking for them, running an errand that may be helpful, or inviting friends to come over for group study.
Don’t keep asking “how’s it going? Do you think you are prepared?”
DO encourage some humor and light conversation, especially if its over family meals: “remember the time that…” It will connect them with good times and emotions which can have a positive effect on stress levels without focusing on “coping.”