Anxiety and exam nerves seem to be a part of children’s lives in ways that forty or fifty years ago were more or less unheard of. Exam nerves can come up for a weekly spelling test, but now with teacher performance being based more and more on pupil performance, children are feeling anxious and nervous about exam performance.

How can you help reduce exam nerves and text anxiety? Here are some quick tips to help children with fears such as exam nerves

=Let your child know that it’s okay to be imperfect

It is rare for one particular test to have lifelong meaning and let’s be honest, perfection is never possible to achieve all the time. We want our children to do their best and feel pride in what they do, and that’s even when they don’t get the grades you expect. Remember that exam nerves will be bigger, and self esteem lower, if, when your child achieves 95% or an A-, and your response is, “why didn’t you get 100% or an A+?” Children soon learn that what they have done is not good enough. Children need to feel good about what they have done rather than feel depressed and guilty about what they didn’t manage to do. Children always want to please their parents and they look to you for praise and positive reinforcement. This means that your questions about why they didn’t do better may be taken as criticism rather than a form of constructive questioning, despite your good intentions. Remember, kids need to be kids and grades can sometimes take a backseat when mental health is at stake.

=Focus on the positives

When your child complains that they can’t do anything or that they failed at something, say something empathetic. Then ask them about the positives. Could they answer any questions? Find something to be proud of or at least don’t get caught in a spiral of negative thinking. Let’s not go to the negative and let’s keep the glass half full rather than half empty. If your child has strong exam nerves, you might together consider choosing a more realistic goal to aim for rather than getting 100%. You might aim for one section of the material to be examined, or, after consulting with the teacher, together aim for a more realistic percentage.

=Give your child real relaxation time

Watching television is not very relaxing and nor are computers. In fact research shows that computers, laptops and tablet screens stimulate you. Relaxation is about relaxing your mind, body and muscles. This can be by gentle exercise, for some children team sports, perhaps a walk, meditation or more meditative practices such as Chi qong, yoga or Ti chi. Children often also find creative activities involving art, dance, writing or reading also to be great for calm and relaxation. What happened to playing board games? Also being with friends is often great for turning off from the stress of school (and home). You can also practice relaxation techniques with your child. This can include visualising walking in countryside or a beach or calming breathing techniques. I run a fun relaxation and de-stress meditation programme for children, in London. So please get in touch if you would like more details.

=Model good behaviour

There is no use preaching to your child to not be so nervous when you talk (out of earshot as well) about your high expectations or about how stressed you are about things. Learn to have a more relaxed attitude yourself and your child will learn that this is how you react to fears and anxiety. If you have exam nerves about a school test, then so will your child. Children feel the moods and emotions circulating in the atmosphere at home. Modelling good behaviour also means that you show your children that you take care of your health and wellbeing as well. If your child sees that you prioritise ‘me time’ and that you sit to eat good food, exercise, and take time to relax, then this will send positive messages about self care to them as well. Exam nerves decrease if you, the parent, are not stressful to be around.

=Reward open communication and courage

If your child shares with you, reward that. If your child faces his or her fears reward that with something fun and tangible. This is not a bribe but positive reinforcement. If it is appropriate, perhaps mention that you, your partner or someone your child respects, will come along to give moral support and perhaps then mention something fun that you will all do afterwards. Sometimes just suggesting this shows enough belief in your child’s abilities that they feel enough courage to go for it alone. Tell them that you believe they can do it and give evidence and a smile as well. Remember that every time your child shows courage by doing something new, that will add units of confidence as well. Courage can sometimes come from seeing and hearing that you, their parent, believe in their ability to do something. Give positive encouragement. Exam nerves can be more easily overcome when your child feels you are on his or her side.

=Encourage your child to face his or her fears and speak about how they feel

We all want to avoid tests and unpleasant situations. I’m sure that like me, when at school, you occasionally feigned illness to avoid going to school when you had a test or a coursework deadline. Yet after paracetamol and some daytime television you were magically fully recovered the next day!

If your child seems worried or scared, do your best to avoid saying things like, “You’re fine”, or “Don’t be silly”. This will help you push the issue aside but it won’t help your child. In effect you are actually telling your child that their experience, in particular the fears he or she are feeling, are ‘silly’, invalid or out of place. Your child will then feel that you are not really acknowledging and listening to them or understand what they are going through. Don’t then be surprised when, after a few years, they stop sharing their feelings with you! If they are anxious, fearful or have, for example, exam nerves or test anxiety, simply ask, “What (about the test) are you worried about?”

Have a discussion about what your child is worried about. Simply talking about how they feel will reduce your child’s exam nerves or test anxiety or whatever fears they have. Talking directly about and facing fears will show your child that the situation is not as horrific as they thought.

=Stay calm, help is at hand

Speak with your child’s teachers and also whether your child is gifted, in need of special help or Joe average, the school’s special educational needs department (SENCO) may have resources or advice for you. Speak to other parents as well. Your GP will also have advice on how to de-stress. I also help children with anxiety, exam nerves and stress at home or at school.